This vote was on an amendment that would have required the federal government to conduct a full review of environmental and economic impacts before approving genetically engineered fish for production.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill that would extend Food and Drug Administration (FDA) programs. Sen. Murkowski’s amendment would have affected an application that AquaBounty, a Massachusetts-based biotechnology company, had submitted to the FDA. AquaBounty sought approval to produce genetically engineered salmon to sell in the U.S. market. The company’s salmon was engineered to grow twice as fast as normal salmon. Sen. Murkowski’s amendment would have required the FDA to withhold its approval of the application until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could complete a review of the environmental and economic consequences of breeding the fish.
Sen. Murkowski argued that the salmon, which would be grown on fish farms, could pose an environmental threat if they escaped into U.S. waters. The ecological and economic risks of such an accident are not well understood, she said, and the FDA should not approve AquaBounty’s application until the matter has been closely studied. She argued that NOAA, as the federal agency charged with overseeing the U.S. fishing industry, should have a say in whether the genetically modified fish are safe to produce.
“The FDA is not looking at labeling this fish. The FDA is not considering the environmental impact of escapement on this fish into the marine environment,” Sen. Murkowski said. “This is a situation where people have a right to know about the quality of their fish, where it comes from, what it is made of. What I am asking is for the agency that has oversight of our fisheries to have a role in this process.”
Opponents of Sen. Murkowski’s amendment argued that it amounted to Congress injecting politics into the FDA’s science-based review of AquaBounty’s application. Interfering with an agency’s review would open “an extraordinary can of worms,” they said.
“I fear this legislation would insert Congress in the scientific process of approving applications that we have entrusted to the FDA. This application has been pending at FDA for over 15 years. We should allow the FDA to complete their scientific review of the product and not interfere with the ongoing reviews,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said. “Members of the Senate should not put on lab coats and tell the FDA to approve or deny the pending application. We should allow them to act on the statutory authority that is given to them.”
Sen. Murkowski’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 46-50. Voting “yea” were 37 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 9 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 35 Republicans and 15 Democrats. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to require the federal government to conduct a full review of environmental and economic impacts before approving genetically engineered fish for production.