Dr. Robert Califf, President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Nov. 17. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday she will block Califf's confirmation after the FDA decided not to require labeling for genetically modified Atlantic salmon that was approved last week.

Murkowski: No ‘frankenfish’ labeling means no new FDA chief

Alaska’s senior senator isn’t backing off her fight to label genetically modified salmon, and she said Monday she’ll go as far as blocking confirmation of the Food and Drug Administration’s next commissioner.

In a statement released Monday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she “will not stand back and just watch these genetically engineered creatures be placed in our kitchens and on our tables without a fight.

The “creatures” Murkowski refers to are the genetically engineered Atlantic salmon approved for human consumption by the FDA on Nov. 19. The fish, engineered by the Massachusetts-based company AquaBounty, grow at twice the rate of farm-raised Atlantic salmon due to a growth hormone gene from Pacific Chinook salmon and a genetic switch from the ocean pout, which keeps the growth hormone gene active year-round.

Murkowski said she intends to block the confirmation of Dr. Robert Califf as the new FDA chief as a way to continue her pursuit of mandatory labeling of “frankenfish.”

Mike Anderson, the spokesman for Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said by email the state’s junior senator “supports Senator Murkowski’s efforts on this issue — which includes placing a hold on the FDA nominee.”

Added Anderson, “At a minimum — these newly approved Frankenfish must (be) properly labeled so that Americans know exactly where their salmon came from.”

The Alaska delegation and other lawmakers in the Pacific Northwest, whose fisheries stand the most to lose when the modified salmon hit market shelves in a couple of years, pushed for labeling regulations during the FDA’s approval process of AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage Salmon. Concerns are that when the modified fish are displayed next to the real thing, consumers won’t know which is which.

“I am furious about this decision, but now I must do everything I can to make sure it is labeled — consumers have a right to know what it is they are eating,” Murkowski said.

The FDA has said the modified fish don’t require additional labeling because there’s no nutritional difference between them and natural fish.

“There are no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile of AquAdvantage Salmon compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon,” the Associated Press reported the agency as saying.

Murkowski doesn’t see it that way. “Genetically modifying salmon is messing with nature’s perfect brain food,” she said. “The real thing is not only the safe choice, but it’s the best thing.”

In 2013, a New York Times poll found three-quarters of Americans had concerns about genetically engineered food, and 93 percent said they supported laws requiring the labeling of such foods.

Murkowski also said she would continue supporting stores that will refuse to carry AquAdvantage Salmon. To date those stores include Costco, Target, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Kroger.

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