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Begich Says “Frankenfish” Unacceptable

FDA poised to certify genetically modified salmon for

America’s dinner plate


A decision to approve a hybrid Atlantic salmon as the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption is a risky precedent, a threat to Alaska wild salmon, and comes with little if any public input, U.S. Senator Mark Begich said today.

“Let’s call this genetically engineered fish for what it is: Frankenfish,” Begich said. “Approval of genetically modified salmon, the first such hybrid to be considered for human consumption, is unprecedented, risky and a threat to the survival of wild species.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds hearings later this month on whether to okay a hybrid Atlantic salmon that has been modified with a Chinook salmon growth gene and an antifreeze gene from an eel, the ocean pout.  The genetic modifications are intended to speed the growth rate of the hybrid-engineered species.  In its 180-page report on the matter, the FDA concludes there is “no biologically relevant difference” of the engineered fish from regular Atlantic salmon.

“No relevant difference?  How about the presence of growth hormones and antifreeze genes from other fish?” Begich said. “Consideration of this gene-spliced salmon needs to move beyond the closed doors of the FDA and into the daylight where the public can weigh in whether this risky development is desired.”

Begich added allowing just a few days of hearings after giving the public only a few weeks to digest a 180-page, technical document is inadequate for public consideration of such a momentous decision.

Salmon farms elsewhere have been criticized for crowded conditions, fecal contamination, use of chemicals, proliferation of disease and escapees.  Atlantic salmon have been documented in Alaska’s Pacific waters, escapees from neighboring fish farms, many infested with sea lice and are considered an invasive species.

Fish farms also depend largely on the harvest of forage species for feed, competing with feed available for wild salmon species.  Begich said the introduction of genetically-engineered hybrid fish and increased production of farmed salmon threatens Alaska’s wild salmon.

“Alaska made the right decision 20 years ago when we banned farmed salmon and other finfish in our waters and focused instead on management practices that sustain and grow our wild salmon,” Begich said.  “Alaska’s management of wild fish stocks is considered among the best in the world and as a result we’ve seen catches soar to above 200 million salmon in recent years, fish that are prized for their high quality and rich flavor.”

Alaska fishermen harvested over 160 million salmon in 2010 worth $400 million to fishermen. Many rural Alaska communities depend largely on harvests of wild salmon production to support local economies and subsistence needs.  If the FDA moves ahead with an ill-advised certification of the hybrid salmon, Begich said he would introduce legislation to require any such animal products on the market be labeled as “genetically engineered.”

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