GE Salmon Labeling Bill Reintroduced in Senate

Bipartisan legislation to assure clear labeling on any genetically engineered (GE) salmon products has been reintroduced in the US Senate.

The legislation by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would specifically ensure that GE salmon products entering the US marketplace are clearly labeled “genetically engineered” in the market name. Co-sponsors are Senators Maria Cantwell, D- WA, Jeff Merkley, D-OR, and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

The US Department of Agriculture last month published labeling guidelines for genetically engineered foods, including GE salmon, with what Murkowski described as weak requirements that could confuse consumers, potentially paving a way for GE salmon to enter domestic markets without clear labels.

“USDA’s new guidelines don’t require mandatory labeling and instead allow producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers, which is a far stretch from giving consumers clear information,” Murkowski said. “There’s a huge difference between genetically-engineered salmon and the healthy, sustainably-caught, wild Alaska salmon. My legislation will ensure that consumers have all the facts, allowing them to make more informed decisions when they purchase salmon.”

The senator said consumers have the right to know what they are eating. “When you splice DNA from another animal and combine it with farmed salmon, you are essentially creating a new species and I have serious concerns with that,” she said. “If we are going to allow this fabricated fish to be sold in stores, we must ensure there is at least clear labeling.”

Murkowski’s campaign to assure clear labeling of GE salmon began when the US Food and Drug Administration announced its decision in late 2015 to approve GE salmon for human consumption. Murkowski vowed to block the confirmation of cardiologist Dr. Robert Califf as FDA commissioner until her concerns on labeling guidelines for GE salmon were resolved. She then secured a provision in the omnibus bill to block the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market until it published labeling guidelines to make consumers aware of what they are purchasing.

In January 2016, the FDA announced an import ban on GE salmon until those labeling guidelines were published. Murkowski lifted her hold on Califf’s nomination only after the FDA provided her with technical drafting assistance on legislative language to effectively mandate labeling of the GE salmon. Several months later Murkowski voted against the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act, which would have allowed for voluntary, rather than mandatory, labeling of GE salmon. In July 2017, she introduced legislation to mandate labeling of GE salmon.