Legislation includes ‘Frankenfish’ labeling provisions

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has gotten language into a major spending and tax package that would not allow the sale of genetically modified salmon until federal labeling guidelines are published.

The language would block the sale of such fish during the current spending year until guidelines are finalized. Since this is a one-year bill, Murkowski told reporters during a teleconference Thursday that similar language may need to be added again next year.

Murkowski and the rest of Alaska’s congressional delegation have been critical of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval last month of so-called “Frankenfish” for human consumption and, at a minimum, have called for labeling the fish. Murkowski, frustrated with not getting a head’s up about the decision, also has threatened to block the confirmation of Robert Califf as FDA commissioner. She said she wants a commitment from Califf that FDA will stick to the intent of the labeling provision.

The legislative package also would lift a long-standing ban on crude oil exports and includes a Murkowski provision calling for the Government Accountability Office to look into problems with a new veterans’ health care program.

Murkowski has cast lifting the ban on oil exports as a way to minimize disruptions given volatility in other parts of the world that could affect the global oil supply. On the veterans’ issue, she said Alaska needs the flexibility to be “cut loose” from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ one-size-fits-all approach to health care.

Veterans have complained about how the “Veterans Choice Program” is working, and during a hearing earlier this month, Alaska’s junior senator, Dan Sullivan, laid into David Shulkin, the VA’s Undersecretary for Health, over VA efforts to address concerns with its implementation in Alaska. Sullivan said the program has been a disaster for Alaska veterans.

The VA announced a pilot program for Alaska to help address veterans’ concerns about getting appointments. But it missed a November target for having more employees in the Alaska VA Healthcare system. Shulkin said a contract change took longer than expected and that VA was not “walking back” on its commitment.