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Begich Introduces Legislation to Stop “Frankenfish”

Legislation blocks approval of genetically-engineered fish

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich has introduced legislation to stop the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from approving genetically-engineered (GE) fish. The bill is in response to hearings by the FDA on what Begich calls "Frankenfish" a product proposed by AquaBounty Technologies currently being considered by the FDA.

A second piece of legislation, should the FDA approve the GE fish, would require labeling of such a product. The bills are companion legislation to two bills sponsored by Rep. Don Young.  Begich's bill banning Frankenfish is co-sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Patty Murray. The labeling bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Murkowski and Murray as well as Sen. Ron Wyden.

"Our main objective is to stop the FDA from ever approving this science project that will potentially harm wild Alaska salmon, while posing human and other environmental health risks," Begich said. "But, at the very least, any type of genetically-engineered fish has to have a label. If the FDA decides this is safe for human consumption, it should be clear to the public what's in and not in the package."

Begich has been leading the fight against GE salmon. The FDA is considering a proposal from AquaBounty Technologies to produce a hybrid Atlantic salmon modified with a Chinook salmon growth gene and an antifreeze gene from an eel, the ocean pout. In September, Begich and ten other senators sent a letter to the FDA questioning the review process and the safety of a genetically-engineered animal for human consumption. The FDA has yet to respond to the letter.

"The FDA seems to be on its own timeline and hasn't even responded to a letter signed by several lawmakers. We will move ahead without the agency, taking steps to ban Frankenfish and keep humans and our wild salmon safe," Begich said.

The letter signed by Begich and the other senators is supported by 52 consumer and environmental groups, commercial and recreational fisheries associations, and food businesses and retailers. Those groups include the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development, and the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association.

Begich also chided the editors of Time magazine for its current edition which lists genetically-engineered salmon among the 50 best inventions of the year. 

"Despite the supposed advantage of growing twice as fast as wild salmon, serious concerns remain about the environmental and human health impacts of these gene-spliced fish," Begich said in a letter to the editor.  "Want more salmon? Here's a better idea: protect its natural habitat, maintain water quality and manage wild stocks for sustainability.  That's what Alaska has done for over 50 years and now returns of wild salmon are at historically high levels.  And wild salmon taste a lot better than anything you'll cook up in a laboratory."

"Let's leave "Frankenfish" on the operating table and not the dinner table."

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