Legislation includes ‘Frankenfish’ labeling provisions

Congress Genetically Modified Foods
FILE - In this Oct. 23, 2014 file photo, a grocery store employee wipes down a soup bar with a display informing customers of organic, GMO-free oils, in Boulder, Colo. Food companies are mounting an aggressive year-end push to head off mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. The food industry wants the labeling to be voluntary, and it hopes to get a provision in a massive spending bill that Republicans and Democrats want to wrap up this week. If that occurs, companies would not be forced to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

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 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.

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