U.S. Senate to vote on bill to label GMO salmon

Transgenic salmon would have to be labeled as a genetically modified organism (GMO), according to provisions added to a Senate spending bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration. The bill would extend a whole-grains waiver for school meals, as well as require the USDA to extend a ban on beef, specifically horse slaughter, from Brazil and Argentina.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski proposed the labeling provision. It has been speculated that the FDA is nearing a decision on the labeling of GM salmon since it was first created two years ago. The salmon would be the first transgenic animal approved for human consumption. Due to growing consumer demand for GMO labeling, major grocery retailers, including Kroger, Whole Foods, Safeway, Target and Trader Joe’s, vowed to not sell GM salmon if it is allowed on the market.

GM Atlantic salmon, dubbed “Frankenfish” by critics, are fish whose genome has been “cut” and “spliced” with the genes of another organism that do not naturally interbreed. Scientists mixed the genes of a Chinook salmon and an eel-like species with an Atlantic salmon so that the fish can grow twice as fast as wild salmon. Farmed salmon reach their full size of five to twelve pounds in about three years. Comparatively, GM salmon reaches that size in two years. In theory, this makes the production of fish more cost effective. Nevertheless, critics note that AquaBounty Technologies (ABT), the company that created the GM salmon, is more concerned about making a profit than cultivating food that is good for human consumption.

There are several environmental and health risks attached to GM salmon. Officials do not know the rippling effects GM salmon may have on indigenous fish if it accidentally escaped into the wild. Under certain times and circumstances, GM salmon could out compete wild fish for food. In addition, GM fish may be better suited for environmental changes than wild fish. “That sounds more like ‘Jurassic Park’-science than something I want on my plate,” said Murkowski.

Then there is the unforeseen health risks GM salmon may have on human health. No long term studies have been conducted on the safety of consuming GM salmon. These risk make consumers weary of GM salmon. Approximately 86 percent of Americans want GMO labeling, according to the Center for Food Safety.

Neither the beef ban nor the labeling of GM salmon are in the House version of the USDA/FDA funding bill. Nevertheless, the House bill does have several provisions that the Senate bill lacks. For example, the House bill would withhold $56 million of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service funding for 2016 until it helps strengthen the oversight panel at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, which has been inadequately handling its role in the past. The Senate and the House will have to work out a negotiation about key differences between the bills.

GM salmon carries unforeseen risks to human health and the environment. Americans want to know what is in their food; a right enjoyed by 64 other countries. The bill is a step towards the growing consumer demand that GM products should be labeled. Hopefully, GM salmon is a fish Congress doesn’t let off the hook.

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