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APPROVAL & ANIMALS: U.S. Senator Mark Begich reintroduced legislation against GE salmon



                                  PART 1


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TITLE:   MARK BEGICH?S SALMON RUN

SOURCE:  National Journal, USA

AUTHOR:  Ben Terris

URL:     http://www.nationaljournal.com/mark-begich-s-salmon-run-20110217?mrefid=mostViewed

DATE:    17.02.2011

SUMMARY: "?I?ll eat salmon any way it comes,? Begich says. ?I eat it straight out of a jar when it comes smoked, I?ll eat it out of a pack, I?ll eat it in a spread, or I?ll eat it grilled. I?ve had everything from cooked to lox, you name it.? The one way he won?t ever eat it is genetically modified. And if he has his way, no one else would either. Begich recently reintroduced legislation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to stop the Food and Drug Administration from approving production of these scientifically enhanced fish."

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MARK BEGICH?S SALMON RUN

The Alaskan?s bill shows what lawmakers do every day to take care of their constituents.

?I?ll eat salmon any way it comes,? Sen. Mark Begich says. ?I eat it straight out of a jar when it comes smoked, I?ll eat it out of pack, I?ll eat it in a spread, or I?ll eat it grilled. I?ve had everything from cooked to lox, you name it.?

When Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, talks about salmon, he sounds an awful lot like Bubba from Forrest Gump, who spends the movie listing his favorite ways to eat shrimp.

?I?ll eat salmon any way it comes,? Begich says. ?I eat it straight out of a jar when it comes smoked, I?ll eat it out of a pack, I?ll eat it in a spread, or I?ll eat it grilled. I?ve had everything from cooked to lox, you name it.?

The one way he won?t ever eat it is genetically modified. And if he has his way, no one else would either. Begich recently reintroduced legislation with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to stop the Food and Drug Administration from approving production of these scientifically enhanced fish.

He wrote the original version of the bill last year after AquaBounty Technologies in Waltham, Mass., created a genetically modified salmon that grows at twice the speed of its natural brethren. And while that bill didn?t make it out of Congress, Begich says he believes it has already made a difference.

?FDA approval of genetically modified fish was supposed to be fast-tracked, so the very fact that it hasn?t happened yet shows they are taking note,? he said. But just in case the FDA does allow the sale of GM fish, Begich has included in the bill a requirement that these fish be labeled.

And while this bill is unlikely to be a top priority for most people in Washington, it?s a classic example of legislation that senators write to appease their constituents back home.

?The finest restaurants in the world wait for our salmon,? Begich said. ?To have some garbage salmon... would be devastating to the fishing communities.... To create an inferior product will degrade the industry, because people might not be able to tell the difference by the packaging, and once they taste it they may decide not to buy salmon anymore.?

As if his disdain wasn?t already palpable, Begich has taken to calling GM fish ?Frankenfish.?

AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish, however, says this characterization of his product is ungrounded.

?It?s absurd,? Stotish said. ?It?s clearly just a way to scare people. People like to evoke images of Jurassic Park or Franken-whatever, but the fact of the matter is that all we are doing is using modern technology to increase food production and better meet the demands of the 21st century.?

When Stotish says this is fear-mongering, he has a point. AquaBounty is adding just one gene from another fish to the salmon eggs that allow the fish to grow quicker. While it?s cutting-edge, it doesn?t quite live up to the Frankenfish term, which conjures up evil science gone awry. It certainly doesn?t live up to the movie by the same name, a 2004 schlock horror flick about monstrous GM fish that gobble up unsuspecting scientists.

These salmon (the real ones, not the fish from the movie) are all female and sterile, so they cannot mate with other fish, which may be moot anyway as AquaBounty plans to keep them in holding pens, and not release them into the wild.

Stotish also pointed out that the Center for Veterinary Medicine says there is no evidence that the fish will have a negative environmental impact. And as for taste? Stotish started sounding like Begich when he said, ?We had a blind taste test with it, we barbequed it, we poached it, we baked it, we smoked it, and no one could tell it was different.?

Regardless of the science, one thing is clear: Begich has skin in the game when it comes to salmon.

Salmon?s stock as an issue of national importance jumped last month when President Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union address when talking about food regulation. ?The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they?re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they?re in saltwater,? he said. ?And I hear it gets even more complicated once they?re smoked.? Afterward, Begich sent Obama a can of Alaskan smoked salmon.

But, while relatively new to the national scene, salmon has an unparalleled importance to Alaska (according to John McPhee?s Coming Into the Country, there are six Salmon Rivers and 13 Salmon Creeks in Alaska).

The Anchorage Daily News reported this year that 96 percent of all wild-caught salmon in the country comes from Alaska. It?s such a vital export (seafood is the No. 1 export in the state and is valued at $2 billion) that it has led to conflicts with Canada?most notably an incident in 1997 where a Canadian flotilla of fishermen blocked the passage of an Alaskan ferry for three days. To quell this salmon war, the United States and Canada revised a comprehensive agreement that sets quotas for the two countries known as the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Begich?s D.C. office is a testament to Alaska?s greatest export. Behind his desk a yellow bumper sticker reads ?Friends Don?t Let Friends Eat Farmed Salmon? (he?s got another one on his car), and a picture of his wife holding a 63-pound king salmon sits atop his mantelpiece. He usually has a couple of cans of salmon by his desk, but he recently finished the last of his stash.

So for Begich, the possibility of genetically engineered fish poses a number of problems, and hits close to home. He says it?s the top issue that constituents mention on his Facebook page. In addition to the fact that the health consequences aren?t fully known, Begich worries that these fish will prove to be an inferior product that could pose a threat to fisheries in his state.

?Ten years ago, I might have said our fisheries weren?t sustainable,? he said. ?But we?ve done a lot since then. We are now a model that people look to worldwide. We shouldn?t be giving up on what?s right and what?s natural.?



                                  PART 2

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TITLE:   LET?S NOT STOP AT SALMON

SOURCE:  Juneau Empire, USA

AUTHOR:  Nicolaas Mink

URL:     http://www.juneauempire.com/stories/021811/opi_787191755.shtml

DATE:    18.02.2011

SUMMARY: "When U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation last month seeking to ban Aquabounty?s so-called Frankenfish, they put the interests of Alaskan citizens over corporate plutocrats and near-sighted regulators. We should applaud the senators for their intervention on behalf of our state?s most important economic, cultural, and natural resource. But the simple fact is this: nearly all the food we put into our bodies contains the same genetically modified organisms that we supposedly decry in our debates about this salmon."

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LET?S NOT STOP AT SALMON

Mink teaches environmental studies at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. and is a summer resident of Sitka, where he runs the Sitka Conservation Society?s Salmon Tours program.

When U.S. Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation last month seeking to ban Aquabounty?s so-called Frankenfish, they put the interests of Alaskan citizens over corporate plutocrats and near-sighted regulators. We should applaud the senators for their intervention on behalf of our state?s most important economic, cultural, and natural resource.

But the simple fact is this: nearly all the food we put into our bodies contains the same genetically modified organisms that we supposedly decry in our debates about this salmon. The corn that finds its way into products as diverse as breakfast cereals and filet mignon has been reengineered by biotech firms to resist a host of pests and pesticides that might otherwise damage the country?s most valuable agricultural good. The soy products that extend meatloaves and enhance soups have undergone similar manipulation in the past two decades. At this point, 90 percent of all soy grown in the United States ? 60 million acres or so ? is genetically modified, most of it to withstand the application of glyphosphate, a toxic herbicide.

Despite cries from food safety advocates, moreover, the Obama Administration has decided to offer its unqualified support of transgenic biotechnology as the foundation of the 21st century food system. In the last week alone, the USDA gave the green light both to the introduction of genetically-engineered alfalfa and to the deregulation of genetically-engineered sugar beets, two products of questionable value to farmers and consumers.

George Siemon, the CEO of Organic Valley, slammed the rulings, saying that the authorization of GMO sugar beets and alfalfa represents ?a clear indication that the USDA is more interested in protecting the biotech industry than the health, safety, environment, and property rights of U.S. farmers and consumers who choose not to grow or consume GMOs.? For Alaskans, the approval of these new commodities sends a clear signal that the administration intends to move forward with its support of Aquabounty?s Frankenfish.

These recent developments suggest that the biotech industry?s influence in Washington is pervasive and widespread, and one bipartisan bill from our senators will do little to change that.

But what we can do is become better informed food consumers. The Frankenfish controversy should make all Alaskans, regardless of political beliefs or party affiliations, take a step back and see the bigger picture. Every time we purchase a soft drink sweetened with corn syrup or a pork roast fattened on soy, we are, in effect, supporting the system that has birthed the same genetically-engineered salmon that threatens the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Alaskans. Seen in this light, drawing a line in the sand at genetically-modified salmon is akin to standing nose-deep in Cook Inlet and not wanting to get your hair wet.

No matter how you look at it, you?re soaked.

If we expect consumers down south to pay a premium for our wild Alaskan salmon, we too should make a similar sacrifice to purchase products that guarantee that we are not eating genetically modified organisms. Certainly, we can push our food producers to utilize non-genetically modified food stuffs; we, too, can purchase foods certified organic by the USDA. Such sacrifices will be difficult, of course, but we will be taking a stand against the biotech oligarchies that have a stranglehold over our food system.

Anything else would be unjust to our fishermen.