Alaskan senator threatens to block nominee for FDA commissioner over GE salmon

  • In November 2015, FDA issued its first approval for a genetically engineered animal intended for direct human consumption — the AquAdvantage Salmon, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its natural counterpart — and released guidelines on voluntary GM labeling. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) helped insert language in the omnibus bill passed in December 2015 that requires FDA to block the sale of any product containing GE salmon during fiscal year 2016, unless the Agency publishes “labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content.”
  • On January 12, 2016, a Senate health committee advanced the nomination of Robert Califf as the next commissioner of the FDA. However, at the committee meeting, Murkowski vowed to block Califf’s confirmation until FDA agrees to require labeling for GE salmon, stating she wants to make sure FDA knows that “voluntarily labeling is not adequate” and “doesn’t comply with what is now law.” Murkowski says she discussed her concerns over GE salmon with Califf when he was before the committee for his confirmation hearing in November, and that Califf, who currently serves as FDA’s deputy commissioner, was “not direct” with her regarding the Agency’s intentions. The FDA announced its approval of AquAdvantage Salmon and released guidelines on voluntary GM labeling two days after the confirmation hearing.
  • Califf, a former Duke University researcher and cardiologist, has been widely expected to win confirmation from the full Senate, but Murkowski’s concerns regarding GE salmon – which she acknowledged are “very parochial” – may prove a stumbling block. FDA has historically taken the position that labeling should be required only if a GM product is materially different from its conventional counterpart; as previously covered on this blog, on November 19, 2015, the Agency denied a Citizen Petition filed by the Center for Food Safety that would have required labeling of food derived from GM crops.