U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during an interview at the Juneau Empire in February 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Murkowski is stifling innovation

  • By James C. Greenwood
  • Friday, November 29, 2019 3:58pm
  • Opinion

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s recent column in these pages touted her many efforts to support Alaskan fisheries and fishermen. I couldn’t agree more with her goals and support the solutions she puts forward that will enhance the livelihood of this great state while enabling more American families to have fresh, healthy salmon on their plates.

Where I disagree with the senator is when the policies she seeks move from support for Alaska to attacking new and innovative efforts by others to bring fresh, healthy salmon to market. And while Murkowski is specifically working to undermine a single company she views as a threat to the Alaska fish industry, her efforts could have a chilling effect on innovators from all industries, both in Alaska and around the country, who now need to fear that their years of investment and research and seeking regulatory approval can all be undone by the efforts of a single senator.

As Alaskans well know, there is no substitute for the high-quality Alaskan salmon caught by tens of thousands of fishermen in this great state. While Alaskan fisheries are to be applauded for their decades of excellent product, the Pacific salmon industry alone cannot feed our country, nor is it sustainable to think it can simply increase production from already over-fished seas.

Like Alaskan salmon, Atlantic salmon are essential to feeding and nourishing a healthy America. Atlantic salmon have been both caught and farmed for decades, providing a different and less expensive alternative to Alaskan and other Pacific salmon for millions of consumers. Unfortunately, the United States currently lacks a sustainable means of providing enough salmon to meet the ever-growing demand of millions of American families across the country. This shortfall is so great, that the United States currently imports 90% of the Atlantic salmon consumed in America from countries like Norway and Chile.

A small, Massachusetts-based company, AquaBounty Technologies, has made its mission to find a sustainable solution to this problem. After 20 years of research and development and countless approvals, AquaBounty is on the cusp of bringing its domestically-raised seafood to communities across the country. Through robust innovation and rigorous testing, AquaBounty has developed a way to use genetic engineering to farm-raise salmon in closed environments that can help meet demand. What’s more, these closed environments are isolated from wild fish populations and pose no risk to any other salmon.

After years of scientific study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found AquaBounty’s salmon to be “as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious,” and approved the company’s salmon for sale in the United States. After receiving FDA approval, AquaBounty opened its first salmon farm facility in Albany, Indiana.

Since that approval, however, Murkowski has worked to prevent AquaBounty’s products from ever reaching consumers. Four years in a row, the senator has introduced language into Appropriations bills to stop AquaBounty from bringing their fish to market. While I share her goal to ensure food is safe to eat, it’s clear that AquaBounty’s salmon have met that standard. What’s more, the company has not objected to the labeling she’s sought, and in fact have actively engaged with regulators to ensure their labeling will meet all relevant standards.

Murkwowski’s most recent effort would require AquaBounty to clear yet another hurdle, this time a federally-funded study that would delay their ability to sell in the U.S. for months or even years, and effectively force this company to kill the hundreds of thousands of fish growing at its Indiana facility.

AquaBounty’s safe, nutritious and affordable method to cultivate salmon alleviates the unsustainable overfishing of the Atlantic Ocean and decreases our reliance on imported seafood. Domestic demand for salmon far exceeds domestic supply, and that will continue without innovative solutions like AquaBounty. While she touts her efforts as part of her advocacy for the Alaskan salmon industry, what Murkowski’s efforts really do is help protect countries like Chile and Norway.

No one disputes the importance of the Alaskan salmon industry, nor do they question the high-quality fish they receive from the last frontier. Rather than jeopardizing the future of an innovative American company, we would ask that Senator Murkowski join us in supporting American innovation that will lead to more consumers getting safe, healthy and great-tasting salmon sustainably raised and harvested in the U.S.

Alaska and all of the United States are the better for strong domestic industry and vital U.S. innovation. Murkowski should get on board and support AquaBounty’s Atlantic salmon as an alternative, not a threat, to the Pacific salmon industry.

• James Greenwood of Washington, D.C., is the CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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