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Alaska, NW Lawmakers Seek Ban On Genetically Engineered Salmon (Or At Least Labeling)
Posted on Friday, February 25, 2011 (PST)

U.S. Rep. Don Young of Alaska earlier this month introduced one piece of legislation that would require the labeling of genetically engineered fish and another that would impose an outright ban such fish in the United States.


The legislation comes in response to a proposal by AquaBounty Technologies that is currently under consideration by the Food and Drug Administration. If the proposal to manipulate Atlantic salmon genetics to produce faster growing fish is approved, it would be the first transgenic animal ever approved for sale in the country for human consumption.


“Frankenfish are uncertain and unnecessary,” Young said. “The assessments of these ‘fish’ are flawed at best and the threat to the population of our wild salmon stock is unacceptable. Additionally, consumers have the right to know that they are eating a supposedly sterile fish spliced with the growth hormone of a chinook and the genetic code of an ocean pout. We cannot allow these alien fish to infect our stocks and I will put forth every effort to ensure they stay in the labs where they belong. I choose Alaskan wild salmon every time.”


Also on Feb. 2 Alaska's senators, Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to ban genetically engineered salmon. But because it looks likely that the FDA will approve the fish, the senators also introduced a second bill co-sponsored by Murray and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon that would require labeling of GE salmon in the event that such fish are approved for consumption.


In her press release, Murkowski expressed strong opposition to an FDA approval.


“It is completely irresponsible for the FDA to even consider this action without evaluating the impacts on Alaska’s wild salmon fisheries," Murkowski said. "The FDA has not studied the environmental effects, let alone the economic impacts on the salmon and seafood markets that would result from approval.”


Aqua Bounty Technologies of Waltham, Mass., has pioneered the genetic modification of salmon to grow the fish to full-size in half the time it now takes for natural salmon. The fish would get a growth gene from the Pacific chinook salmon and genetic material from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish, that would allow it to grow in the summer and winter.


The developer had to file a new animal drug application with FDA because the process alters the structure and/or function of the animal.


An FDA preliminary analysis released in August concluded that the salmon are safe to eat and not expected to have a significant impact on the environment.


The company says that the risk of escapement, and the potential intermingling with wild salmon stocks, is eliminated with geographical and geophysical containment provided by the location of the egg production and grow-out sites. The environment surrounding the egg-production site in a hatchery on Prince Edward Island off the east coast of Canada is inhospitable to early-life stages of Atlantic salmon due to high salinity.


And, the environment downstream of the grow-out site in Panama’s highlands is inhospitable to all life stages of Atlantic salmon due to high water temperatures, poor habitat, and physical barriers (e.g., several hydro-electric facilities).


Biological containment is accomplished through the production of all-female triploid (sterile) fish, which reduces the chance of breeding with native species, and significantly reduces the risk of transgene propagation in the environment, the company says.


The EPA’s Alan Bennett earlier this month told the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that the federal agency is uncertain about how, or when, it might process the application.


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