Alaska News

Murkowski threatens to fight FDA appointment over approval of genetically modified salmon

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski plans to fight the appointment of the next U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner over the agency's decision that genetically modified salmon is safe to eat.

The action comes amid objections to what Murkowski and other critics call "Frankenfish" -- Atlantic salmon engineered with a chinook salmon growth hormone gene and genetics from the eel-like ocean pout that can grow up to twice as fast as their farm-raised counterparts.

The FDA last week announced the approval of a new animal drug application involving AquAdvantage salmon, a genetically engineered salmon created by AquaBounty Technologies.

Murkowski, chair of the Senate's powerful Energy and Natural Resources committee, said in a statement Monday she intends to block the confirmation of Dr. Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee, "due to lack of cooperation and communication from the FDA surrounding their announcement to approve" genetically engineered salmon.

Murkowski in an interview last week said she got no direct word about the salmon announcement, only an email from the acting commissioner's assistant the night before. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Ostroff wanted to schedule a phone call Thursday to "inform the senator of a time-sensitive action FDA is taking," Murkowski said, reading the email from her phone.

"And by the time we basically woke up this morning, it had already been leaked or released that the FDA had signed off on the genetically engineered salmon -- something that they had under review for about five years now -- and I still have yet to have a conversation with Dr. Ostroff," Murkowski said last Thursday, adding that the two traded phone messages that morning but nothing more.

Murkowski will weigh in on the appointment through her seat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Petersen said in an email.


Murkowski in Monday's statement also said she also plans to reintroduce legislation to require more research into the risks of the new fish product and address mandatory labeling.

FDA says it doesn't plan to require manufacturers to label the fish as genetically engineered because data showed that the AquAdvantage salmon wasn't nutritionally different from farm-raised Atlantic salmon.

It's unclear just when the genetically modified fish will appear on grocery shelves or in restaurants. The company told The New York Times it would be at least two years.

Dozens of grocery chains including Safeway, Target and Fred Meyer parent company Kroger already have policies not to sell genetically engineered seafood, according to a list compiled by Friends of the Earth.

Costco said Friday it also doesn't intend to sell genetically modified salmon, according to a report in the Seattle Times.

Reporter Erica Martinson contributed to this report

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at