Murkowski’s Fishy Rider
The Alaskan prepares a sneak attack on the U.S. GM salmon industry.
Republicans claim to believe in free markets, at least until competition meets hometown interests. For a case study, witness Senator Lisa Murkowski ’s backroom effort to coddle Alaska’s Pacific salmon industry at the expense of consumers.
We’re told Ms. Murkowski will use her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee this week to slip a rider into a farm spending bill that continues to block the sale of genetically modified salmon. The Alaskan has used riders to single-handedly block GM salmon for years, but the stakes are now higher.
Ms. Murkowski’s specific target is AquaBounty, a small company that is finally ready to bring its bio-engineered Atlantic salmon to market. AquaBounty worked for more than 20 years to obtain regulatory approval for its fish, which are modified to grow twice as fast as regular Atlantic salmon, while consuming less feed. The Food and Drug Administration ruled in 2015 that the fish are “safe to eat” and “as nutritious” as other Atlantic salmon. FDA also found “no biologically relevant” nutritional differences between GM and conventional salmon.
But Ms. Murkowski then stepped in with a rider barring the sale of GM salmon until the FDA issued consumer-labeling guidelines. AquaBounty spent three years clearing the labeling hurdle and in March received approval to import eggs from its Canadian operation. Nearly 30 employees are currently overseeing these 160,000 salmon in AquaBounty’s Indiana facility, where the company has invested millions of dollars.
Yet we’re told Ms. Murkowski now plans a rider that would require “a label comprehension study” before fish can be sold. Such reviews are usually reserved for pharmaceutical drugs, can take years, and in this case would require the destruction of AquaBounty’s fish, as well as many jobs.
The West Coast’s Pacific salmon industry comes nowhere close to meeting annual U.S. salmon demand. More than 90% of Atlantic salmon currently sold in the U.S. are imported from the likes of Norway and Chile. The AquaBounty venture, and future aquaculture companies, will create more U.S. jobs. The Pacific salmon industry will face more competition, but consumers will benefit.
Like the anti-GM European left, Ms. Murkowski portrays bio-engineered salmon as unhealthy Frankenfish that might escape and threaten wild species. But this ignores the FDA’s findings and that federal agencies have approved AquaBounty’s facility.
Amid the growth of bio-engineered food and conflicting state laws, a bipartisan majority in Congress in 2016 passed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. The law laid out a national disclosure standard for bio-engineered food, and the Department of Agriculture finalized rules last year. AquaBounty has worked in good faith with regulators to abide by safety and labeling rules.
Yet now Ms. Murkowski is trying to overrule that federal process. The Senator’s office declined comment on her rider intentions, but she will probably get her way in the clubby Senate Appropriations Committee. We hope others in Congress strip out this parochial assault on a new and growing industry.