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Public Statements

Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. MURKOWSKI. Madam President, I rise today to speak to an amendment we will have on the floor tomorrow afternoon. This is an amendment that certainly has generated a fair amount of interest within my State, in fact, most of our coastal States, anywhere where we have an interest in seafood and the seafood industry. It has been kind of unceremoniously dubbed the frankenfish amendment, so my apologies to my colleague who just yielded the floor to me. Certainly no affront to him.

But what we are speaking about today is genetically engineered salmon. It has been somewhat affectionately dubbed frankenfish because of the images this genetically engineered fish conjures up, a fish that would literally be growing in size, doubling in size, unlike the fish we see in our streams and in our waters.

What is happening today is the FDA is on a path to approve an application for this genetically engineered fish. I want to discuss the amendment I have filed which would require NOAA to conduct a full environmental assessment and analysis of economic impact to affected fisheries before the FDA approves any of these genetically engineered fish.

I start my comments by saying I am not looking to pull the plug on the FDA. I am not looking to insert Congress's judgment into the FDA process. I am asking that when we are talking about basically a new fishery for a modified salmon, I am asking the agency that is tasked with our fisheries have some role in what is moving forward. So let me give you a little background in terms of what we are talking about with this genetically engineered fish, this frankenfish. This would be a fish, an Atlantic salmon, that has DNA spliced from a Chinook salmon with that of what they call an ocean pout, which is some kind of an eel type of a fish that apparently is in colder waters. But the technology the FDA is looking at that would allow for this genetic engineering would essentially provide for a fish that would grow to market size in about half the time of a conventional salmon. In other words, a salmon out in the wild takes about 30 months to gain full maturity. With this frankenfish, this genetically modified salmon, they could be of good market size, basically good eating size, within about 15 to 18 months.

You are thinking, okay, well, how can this be bad? We get a salmon that looks like a salmon, and it comes to us in half the time. So how can this be a bad thing? I wish to share with you why I feel this is a bad thing. When I am talking, you will hear me talking about salmon, because that is what the FDA process is engaged with right now. But I will tell you we understand that similar efforts are underway to develop a genetically modified trout, as well as a genetically modified tilapia, again, designed to grow faster than occurs in nature and out in the wild.

The pending application for the salmon would be the very first food from a transgenic animal that has been approved by the FDA, so this is precedent setting. People have suggested that, well, we see this in other forms of agriculture. But the fact is this would be the first food from a transgenic animal application that has been approved by the FDA, so this is quite precedent setting.

What is happening is this approval process for the genetically engineered fish continues to move forward as a new animal drug, rather than what it is, what I mentioned before, which is a new fishery for this modified salmon, this salmon that has been tinkered with, basically a test-tube salmon.

Here are the reasons why I think this is a bad thing, to be messing with Mother Nature, to encourage this unnatural growth. We heard on the floor this morning--the Senator from New Jersey and the Senator from New York both stood and talked about a measure that is out there, the march that was out on the Capitol yesterday, mothers concerned about toxins in the food supply, toxins in the world around us, and knowing what is out there, knowing what we are exposed to.

Well, I, along with many consumers out there, am concerned about genetically engineered animal products that are intended for human consumption, including those that are in our marine resources. I am not the best cook in the family; my husband is. But I want to know, he wants to know, our kids want to know, that what we are eating is good and safe and sound.

At home, we eat a lot of salmon. I can stand there and tell my kids: Eat this. This is brain food. This is good for you. It is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. It is as good as you can possibly get. I can say that with certainty.

We cannot say that, we will not be able to say that with this genetically engineered fish. As a mom, I am not going to say to my kids: Eat this frankenfish. Not quite sure what an eel pout is or an ocean pout; not quite sure how they splice this DNA together; not quite sure whether they have made it sterile.

We are not quite sure what it is, but it came to market quickly, and we are going to be able to get a cheaper price on it. I think we want to know.

The scary thing with the FDA right now is that they are reluctant to label genetically engineered products, even though it allows the public to know what they are eating. The data out there is pretty clear that there are higher human allergen effects with genetically engineered fish. If you are a mom and your kids have allergies, are you going to look at this fish and say: I wonder if this is going to set allergies off. No. You are going to stay away from it. You will not serve that to your kids or your family even though you know the wild stuff is good and healthy. But how do you know which is which if the FDA isn't moving forward to label and you are not quite sure that what you are buying in the grocery store is as advertised? How are we helping the consumer here?

The first problem I have is that this is, again, a product that is intended for human consumption, and we have some real concerns about the safety of the food in the first place. Second--and this is one that, as an Alaskan, where we have very strong fisheries, very healthy fisheries, I worry about what will happen if, in fact, there was escapement into the wild by these genetically engineered fish. You have a frankenfish that gets loose. They will tell you: They are going to be in pens, and we will make sure there is no escape. How can they make sure we are not going to see escapement? We have seen that, clearly, from the farm fish that mingle with the wild stock. We see the disease that can be transmitted. How is any of this good? Even though the genetically engineered fish supposedly is going to be kept in onshore pens, the possibility of escape is recognized, it is out there, and it exists.

Then you are going to have these genetically engineered fish that will breed year-round. They are also going to be eating year-round. They are going to be feeding year-round. What you can very possibly see is this competition with the wild stock. They will compete with one another for the food the species feeds on, and they will wreak havoc with the ecosystem. So you can introduce--granted, not intentionally--into the ecosystem that fish that just doesn't work with our wild stock. Unlike hatchery produced fish, genetically produced fish would reportedly be sterilized and their hormones altered. But many scientists believe that the FDA testing to confirm the agricultural safety and sterilization of these fish is deficient. We see this in the CRS report that has looked specifically to this issue.

Unlike other agricultural products, if you have an escape of frankenfish, it would be to an uncontrolled marine environment, exposing valued ecosystems to associated risks. If you have a cow that has been genetically modified and that cow is on land and gets out of the pen, you have more ability to control that. You don't have the ability to control in a marine environment. It is just not possible. So what is happening is that we are putting at risk the health and safety of our wild stock. Unacceptable.

Third, many find the FDA process for approving an animal product intended for human consumption as it would a veterinary drug to be insufficient. It lacks the robustness and transparency one would expect for a product that would be treated as a substitute for fish that is currently on our dinner plates in this country today.

The CRS report which I just mentioned will be introduced for the Record. It is a report by CRS, dated June 7 of last year, titled ``Genetically Engineered Fish and Seafood: Environmental Concerns.''

One of the concerns raised in this report is this:

A National Research Council report stated that transgenic fish pose the ``greatest science-based concerns associated with animal biotechnology, in large part due to the uncertainty inherent in identifying environmental problems early on and the difficulty of remediation once a problem has been identified.

Our fishermen are very highly regulated, and any change to a Federal fishery, including a new GE fishery, should be analyzed for environmental effects and economic impacts to affected businesses and fishing communities. We are bringing NOAA in to be part of this process in this amendment.

The last point I will make on this is that there could be very significant economic consequences of approving genetically engineered fish. Historically, the entrance and growth of farmed salmon in the marketplace has had negative impacts on our salmon industry. We have an incredible abundance in the wild stocks, and we are very proud of it. The seafood industry in Alaska is our second largest employer, valued at $500 million with salmon alone. But the concern is that, although we have very strong wild stocks, we could see the market respond with unreasonable fear and confusion to the introduction and growth of engineered fish, particularly if it is not labeled. This, in my opinion, could have a devastating economic impact on our fish industry and the jobs it supports, clearly at a time that our Nation can't afford it.

Some will come back and say: Hey, this is a new industry, it is going to create new jobs.

I will take you back to that CRS report. One of the things I find interesting is that it says:

To address these concerns, AquaBounty has proposed producing salmon eggs in Canada, shipping these eggs to Panama, growing and processing fish in Panama, and shipping table-ready, processed fish to the United States for retail sale.

They would ship these frankenfish to the United States for resale. So basically we get all the harm, but we don't get any jobs. But what we are doing is putting at risk the existing jobs within the seafood industry in this country--priority No. 1.


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