The fishing industry and politicians from commercial-fishing states are mobilizing against a possible Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically modified salmon for the American dinner table.
“Putting unlabeled, genetically altered salmon in the marketplace is simply irresponsible, and the FDA needs to strongly consider what impacts this will have before they approve this Frankenfish,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said Thursday.
A coalition that includes Pacific Coast trollers, Atlantic fishing companies and organic-yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm says the genetically altered salmon might threaten their livelihoods by spreading unease about salmon and other foods.
“This stuff is not healthy for people, and it’s not like our fresh fish,” said Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association of Massachusetts.
Ms. Sanfilippo’s group and others have joined with 39 lawmakers who wrote to the FDA this week asking the agency to stop its approval process for the genetically modified salmon. They cited concerns about “human health and environmental risks” from the AquAdvantage salmon.
AquaBounty’s chief executive, Ronald Stotish, said the company is disappointed by the letter. “Our elected representatives have chosen to be swayed by rhetoric while ignoring publicly available scientific review,” Mr. Stotish said.
“This is the most studied fish in history,” he added. The meat of the AquAdvantage salmon is no different from that of other North Atlantic salmon, he said.
An FDA spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the agency would respond directly to the members of Congress.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.), who is chairwoman of an appropriations panel overseeing the FDA, introduced a bill that would mandate that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such, marking it differently from farmed or wild salmon in grocery stores and restaurants.
The FDA has said there is no reason to have different labels, and that the agency may lack authority to mandate them if the product is approved as safe for people to eat. The labeling issue has become almost as divisive as the approval itself.
The traditional fishing industry wants the altered salmon to carry a label identifying its origin, said Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska. Unless the different salmon are labeled, “people will start to think maybe it’s not good to eat salmon at all,” he said.
The director of the Alaska Trollers Association, Dale Kelley, agreed, saying that without labels, “you’re not sure what’s on your plate.”
Alaska produced 730 million pounds of wild salmon last year, more than 90% of all wild salmon in the U.S., according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, slammed the idea of allowing genetically engineered salmon to be sold in supermarkets.
“We are concerned genetically engineered salmon could jeopardize the health of wild-salmon stocks,” he said in a statement last weekend, citing the risk that the AquAdvantage salmon could spread disease or cross-breed with wild salmon.
Mr. Stotish said his company’s fish are raised in contained areas that have multiple systems to “prevent escape into the wild.” He added, “We exclusively breed sterile females.”
On Sept. 20, an FDA advisory committee indicated that the salmon is generally safe, but several members raised questions about some of the research by AquaBounty.