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Alaska Sens. introduce 'Frankenfish' ban

Posted: Tuesday, February 01, 2011

U.S. Senators Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) formally reintroduced legislation to the 112th Congress to ban genetically engineered salmon.

The senators included a companion bill that would require labeling the fish as such in the event they are allowed on the shelves.

Such salmon, which have been dubbed “Frankenfish,” were proposed by AquaBounty Technologies and are currently under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration. AquaBounty proposes to produce a hybrid Atlantic salmon modified with a Chinook salmon growth gene and an antifreeze gene from an ocean pout.

“Frankenfish threatens our wild stocks, their habitat, our food safety, and would bring economic harm to Alaska’s wild salmon fishermen,” Begich said in a press release. “Genetically-modified salmon, the first such hybrid to be considered for human consumption, is risky, unprecedented and unnecessary.”

“I am strongly opposed to the FDA approval of genetically engineered salmon. It is completely irresponsible for the FDA to even consider this action without evaluating the impacts on Alaska’s wild salmon fisheries,” Murkowski stated in a release. “The FDA has not studied the environmental effects, let alone the economic impacts on the salmon and seafood markets that would result from approval.”

They originally entered the bill during the last Congressional session with Begich sponsoring and Murkowski co-sponsoring. The session ended before the bill could be decided.

“We’re going to keep trying,” said Begich’s press secretary, Julie Hasquet. “We weren’t going to give up just because the session ended.”

Begich and Murkowski were among 10 senators who sent a letter to the FDA questioning the review process and safety of such genetically engineered salmon. The release states the FDA has not yet indicated when it will make a decision on the fish, and the senators are hoping to move the legislation quickly.

The Frankenfish issue is important to those in Alaska’s salmon industry. No matter the future of the two bills, it was an important one to bring forward with strong feelings within the industry, said Douglas Island Pink and Chum Executive Director Eric Prestegard.

“It’s a strong, good product statewide, and by having Lisa introduce it, it shows Alaska stands strong on wild salmon,” he said.

He said it will be hard to tell how the FDA will decide, or even if the fish will be a good or bad thing. One thing he’s sure of is that labeling Alaskan wild salmon as such is important to the product, and properly labeling and distinguishing these fish is just as important.

“Alaska has strong ties to wild salmon,” Prestegard said. “We’re pretty strong about labeling, so those will at least have to be labeled farmed fish.”

The bill to ban the genetically engineered fish was co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), and the labeling bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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