Appropriations Bill Provision Aimed at GE Salmon Labels

Legislation now before the US Senate would slow introduction of genetically engineered salmon to US markets.

The provision specially states that no food containing genetically engineered salmon shall be permitted into interstate commerce until a consumer study of the efficacy of the Commerce Department’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for informing consumers of the genetically engineered content of salmon products is delivered to Congress.

The provision dictates that the study be performed by a joint commission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration under the Federal advisory Committee Act, with the study to begin no later than 180 days after enactment of the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020.

The provision was secured by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said she acted after USDA published inadequate labeling guidelines for genetically engineered foods, including GE salmon.

These guidelines didn’t require mandatory labeling of GE salmon, Murkowski said. Instead they allow producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers for more information. These guidelines had led the FDA to deactivate an import ban that prevented GE salmon from entering U.S. markets.

Murkowski and others opposed to the introduction of GE salmon into the domestic marketplace often refer to the product as “Frankenfish.”

The Alaska Republican said she opposes introduction of GE salmon into U.S. markets until clear labeling rules are established to inform consumers that they are purchasing a genetically engineered salmon product. “FDA made a serious misstep by lifting the import ban on GE salmon in response to the untested, inadequate labeling guidelines approved by USDA earlier this year,” she said.

In December of 2015 Murkowski inserted a provision in the federal omnibus appropriations bill that blocked the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market until it publishes labeling guidelines so consumers knew the content of what they were buying. A month later, the FDA announced an import ban on GE salmon until labeling guidelines had been published.

On March 8, 2019 the FDA lifted an import restriction, allowing the biotech company AquaBounty, with facilities in Canada and Panama, to start raising genetically engineered salmon eggs in America, effectively clearing the way for the first commercially raised genetically engineered seafood to come to market.

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon has been in development since the 1990s, and is already available in Canada, noted The New Food Economy, an independent nonprofit newsroom that investigates the forces shaping how and what people eat. The company’s proprietary breed of fish is modified to contain genes from Chinook salmon and an eel-like creature called an ocean pout, allowing it to grow twice as fast, on less food, than normal Atlantic salmon.