Advocates win labels for GMO 'frankenfish'

By:  Lydia Wheeler
Source: The Hill

The 2009 page federal spending bill unveiled early Wednesday morning contains laguage forcing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to finalize guidelines for the labeling of genetically modified salmon — a victory for advocates seeking mandatory labels on all foods made with GMO products.

The $1.1. trillion bill to fund the government through September 2016 contains language that prohibits the agency from introducing any food that contains genetically engineered salmon until it publishes its final labeling guidelines. The spending bill also directs the FDA to use $150,000 of its funding to develop these guidelines and implement a program to disclose to consumers whether salmon offered for sale to consumers is of a genetically engineered variety. 

Lawmakers are responding to the agency's decision last month to approve a specific brand of salmon that’s genetically engineered to grow to market size faster than its farm-raised counterpart. FDA said AquAdvantage salmon, a product of AquaBounty Technologies, meets the statutory requirements for safety and effectiveness under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and is as nutritious as non-GMO Atlantic salmon, with no biologically relevant differences in the nutritional profile compared to that of other farm-raised Atlantic salmon. The GMO salmon will be raised in land-based, contained hatchery tanks in two specific facilities in Canada and Panama.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who condemned FDA in November for approving what some critics are calling “frankefish," said Wednesday that she supports the mandatory labeling provision in the spending bill. 

“The FDA’s genetically engineered salmon decision is bad for consumers and potentially bad for our environment,” she said in a statement. "If the FDA doesn’t reverse its decision, it’s critical the agency develop clear and transparent labeling requirements for genetically engineered salmon.”

Congress is expected to vote on the bill this Friday.

Opponents of GMO labeling were hoping for more expansive language in the bill that blocks states like Vermont from being able to issue their own mandatory labeling laws altogether. 

“It is unfortunate that Congress has failed to take action this year to stop a patchwork of costly and misleading state labeling mandates, an issue of tremendous importance to consumers, farmers, food and beverage companies,” Pamela Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Associations said in a statement. "In January, food manufacturers will face exponentially increasing costs totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling mandate."