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Begich Chairs Hearing on Environmental Risks of Frankenfish

Threats to wild fish stocks, ecosystems highlighted at hearing

In his ongoing efforts to discourage the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from approving genetically-engineered (GE) fish, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today chaired a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard on the environmental risks of what Begich calls “Frankenfish.”

The FDA is considering commercialization of the first GE fish intended for human consumption in the United States. The proposal by AquaBounty, Inc. is to produce and sell AquAdvantage salmon which are Atlantic salmon that have been genetically-engineered for faster growth and increased survival by insertion of a growth hormone gene from Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from the eel-like Atlantic Ocean pout.

“Looking at the available scientific information, it is clear that there is no guarantee that these GE fish won’t ever escape into the wild. And there is an alarming degree of scientific uncertainty about the environmental risks of these fish if they do escape,” Begich said in his opening remarks. “America’s wild salmon stocks and aquatic ecosystems are too important to allow them to be guinea pigs in what will amount to basically a huge experiment with GE fish in our waters.

With Alaska the world’s largest supplier of wild salmon, Begich has been encouraging the FDA to not approve GE fish since the proposal first came forward and he has also introduced legislation to ban the sale of such fish should it be approved. In October, Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act to ban the interstate commerce of GE fish.

Video:

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Audio:

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Begich and other opponents of GE fish fear potential harm to global fish markets by the introduction of this engineered species.  Salmon markets and prices were severely impacted with the growth of widespread salmon farming in the 1990s and Alaska fishermen struggled to recover by branding their salmon as wild.  Large scale production of GE salmon poses a new threat by creating product confusion among buyers and possible rejection in the marketplace, particularly if the fish are not labeled.

Public opposition to the approval of GE fish for human consumption is widespread. Recently, 93 fishing, conservation, consumer and other groups signed a letter in opposition to the AquaBounty proposal.  Polling data suggests even broader rejection of GE salmon among potential consumers.  Opponents know that approval of GE salmon is likely just the first in many GE animals in line for consideration by the FDA for human consumption.

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