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Earth Day, April 22, was a good day for a unanimous Mayor and Council to join Senators Cantwell and Murray and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in opposing a proposal before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would approve the commercial production of genetically engineered salmon that have had genes from other species inserted into their DNA to make them grow faster.

Senators Murray and Cantwell, the two Alaska Senators and Alaska’s Representative are part of a bipartisan coalition that supports legislation that would ban the genetically modified fish or require it to be labeled as transgenic if the FDA approves it. Washington and Alaska lawmakers are reacting to the possible threat to the livelihood of Northwest and Alaska fishermen. They are also concerned about the potential health concerns relating to the consumption of genetically engineered salmon and the threat to wild salmon if these fish get loose and become established in the wild.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is also alarmed about this proposal. Brian Cladoosby, Chairman of the Swinomish Tribal Community, in a comment letter opposing the proposed FDA action, stated: “The Tribe is also concerned that genetically engineered salmon pose a grave threat to the environment and to the health of the general population. We strongly believe that it would be an error for the FDA to accept the unsupported “guarantee” that all genetically engineered fish can be contained and not adversely impact people and the environment. History has shown that fish raised in aquaculture facilities can – and will – escape. It is also likely that genetically engineered fish would eventually be raised in open ocean net pens because nearly all commercial salmon production occurs in such pens. Farmed salmon routinely escape.”

The proposal, by AquaBounty Technologies Inc., is to alter Atlantic salmon with genes taken from the Pacific Chinook salmon and the eel-like Ocean Pout. Adding these growth genes from other species would cause the fish to produce growth hormones continuously, allowing it to grow bigger and faster than natural salmon.

Seattle, as the home of much of the Alaska fishing fleet, has a direct economic stake in the continued health of the fishing industry, which this proposal threatens in several ways. We also, of course, share the concerns about human health and the potential degradation of the environment and threat to the survival of endangered wild salmon.

More than 400,000 fishermen, environmentalists, food safety advocates and others have written to the FDA with concerns about the FDA’s preliminary finding that this project should be allowed to proceed. As a fallback, many commenters have suggested that, if the FDA allows the project to proceed, the company should be required to label the fish as genetically engineered when they are sold to consumers. In its resolution, the City also endorsed federal labeling of genetically engineered food and animals.

In the European Union, genetically modified organisms are tightly regulated, required to be labeled, and often banned from human consumption. In the United States there are fewer restrictions on genetic modifications and no labeling requirements. This fall Washington voters will have the opportunity to vote on an initiative requiring labeling of GMO food sold in the State.

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