Senate Hears Criticism of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Environmental risks of genetically engineered salmon were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing this past week. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who has labeled the product “Frankenfish,” chaired the session of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced legislation in October to ban the interstate commerce of genetically engineered fish. Among those testifying with written and/or oral testimony were Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D- W. VA., Ron Stotish, president of AquaBounty Technologies; Illinois fisheries geneticist John Epifanio; fisheries author Paul Greenburg; and George Leonard, aquaculture program director for Ocean Conservancy.

Leonard told the subcommittee that genetically engineered salmon could potentially damage already-struggling wild salmon populations through competition for food and habitat, pathogen and disease transmission, disruption of reproduction and interbreeding. “If such impacts come to pass, they could have real-world and far-reaching impacts people, industries and the environment” Leonard said. “Congress should ensure that key questions are answered before GE salmon are approved for commercial production,” he said.
“It is clear to me that we need to operate under the assumption that these fish will escape, and that warrants a thorough examination of the harm that this could cause,” said Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Epifanio said a robust and formal risk assessment is warranted. “We need to consider the scientific issues surrounding the risks of genetically engineered salmon and other fishes based on the appropriate and full range of scientific fields to shape the policy discussions,” he said.

Greenberg called Begich’s decision to hold the hearing an important one toward achieving a better understanding of the full suite of environmental risks posed by genetically modified salmon. The environmental risks posed by genetically engineered salmon specifically and GE fish in general are real, he said.

Congress should take legislative action to ensure that the full weight of environmental risks is thoroughly understood before we proceed, he said.

AquaBounty Technologies’ Ron Stotish noted the high demand for seafood in the US has resulted in the nation importing some 300,000 metric tons of Atlantic salmon each year from a variety of foreign producing countries, while producing less than 17,000 metric tons from aquaculture. Stotish said the cultivation of Atlantic salmon would not likely impact the wild caught Alaska salmon fishery market. Stotish also said the company’s facilities are located in areas that are highly unfavorable to the survival, establishment and spread of AquAdvantage salmon, should there be an escape.