Federal spending bill requires FDA to label genetically modified salmon

A 2009 federal spending bill disclosed Wednesday would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lay out guidelines for the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered salmon, otherwise known as Frankenfish by critics.

“Consumers have a right to know whether they are buying Washington’s world-class salmon or Frankenfish engineered in a lab,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. Congress plans to vote on the bill Friday.(1)

When federal regulators first approved the consumption of genetically engineered salmon, authorities stated AquAdvantage salmon, the GM salmon produced by AquAdvantage, would not have to be labeled on supermarket shelves.

Instead, manufactures were given the choice to label GM food. However, the label would only state the product’s nutritional conduct was altered; not that it was genetically engineered. Many supermarkets have already stated they will not sell the AquAdvantage salmon in their stores.

A leading Northwest retailer, Costco, for instance, claims they will not sell Frankenfish. So too have Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Safeway and Kroger.(1)

A slippery fish

Cantwell had condemned the FDA’s decision to approve the genetically engineered fish in November. Although disappointed by the ruling, she says she is in favor of the mandatory labeling provision in the spending bill.

Cantwell isn’t the only one who is upset with the court’s ruling. The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and its chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has been at odds with the FDA about GM salmon for quite some time now.

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“I will not stand back and just watch these genetically engineered creatures be placed in our kitchens and on our tables without a fight,” Murkowski said. “I am furious about this (FDA) decision but now I must do everything I can to make sure it is labeled.”(1)

Murkowski’s anger was provoked by the FDA trying to blindside her by giving her no notice about the controversial action.

“Genetically modified salmon is messing with nature’s perfect brain food. The real thing is not only the same choice, but it is the best thing,” she said last month.(1)

The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon as fit for human consumption this fall on the grounds that there is “no biologically relevant difference in the nutritional profile of (modified) salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon.”

To the contrary, there are a host of environmental and health risks attached to GM salmon, as explained by Marion Nestle in her book What to Eat:

“Farmed salmon escape from pens in large numbers and can swim long distances. Because GM salmon grow faster and bigger than wild salmon, and so might outmate their competitors if they escaped into the wild, they generate additional concerns beyond the usual.”(2)

The first of its kind

Frankenfish is the first genetically engineered animal to be approved for sale and there is no telling the reverberations the fish may have on the environment. The $1.1. trillion bill to fund the government through September 2016 contains language that prohibits the FDA from introducing any food that contains genetically engineered salmon until it publishes its final labeling guidelines.(3)

Opponents of GMO labeling were hoping for a more encompassing language in the bill, which would prohibit states, like Vermont, from issuing their own mandatory labeling laws entirely.(3)

“It is unfortunate that Congress has failed to take action this year to stop a patchwork of costly and misleading state labeling mandates, an issue of tremendous importance to consumers, farmers, food and beverage companies,” Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers said in a recent statement.(3)

“In January, food manufacturers will face exponentially increasing costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate,” she added.(3)

Sources include:

(1) SeattlePi.com

(2) Amazon.com

(3) TheHill.com

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