FDA To Announce Decision On Genetically Modified Salmon

Alaska’s Congressional delegation is bracing for an FDA decision on genetically modified salmon and Sen. Mark Begich has asked the head of the agency not to exploit the holiday season to release what’s expected to be an unpopular report.

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At issue is a U.S.  company’s plan to create Atlantic salmon eggs for fish farms that include a Chinook salmon gene.

AquaBounty hopes to produce fish that grow to market size in half the time – Begich calls it Frankenfish.

“FDA has never approved anything of this nature, which is basically cloning, and from that perspective I don’t think they’re prepared to understand the potential long-term impacts,” Begich said.

Last year, on the day after Christmas, the FDA officially announced its initial ruling in favor of gene-modified salmon.

Begich says it’s like they were trying to slip something by when Americans weren’t looking. An FDA spokeswoman, though, says they publish documents when they’re complete. In a letter last week, Begich asked that they avoid such surprises this season, and he says they assured him the document isn’t coming soon.

“At least they’ve responded, which is a good sign that they recognize how important this issues is and they can’t rush it through at the end of the year because they want to,” Begich said.

Nearly 38,000 people wrote comments to the FDA about AquaBounty’s plan. Most were against it. Begich, like Alaska fisherman, says the modified salmon could escape and damage the state’s wild stocks, and he says they’d hurt Alaska salmon in the marketplace.

AquaBounty says its fish will be sterile and reared inland, in Panama, so that they can’t escape and harm natural populations. Canada last month cleared the firm to produce genetically modified salmon eggs for commercial use at its hatchery on Prince Edward Island.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz