Murkowski maintains threat to hold FDA nomination

Sen. Lisa Murkowski renewed vows to place a hold on the nomination of a new Food and Drug Administration chief after a Senate panel approved him on Jan. 12.

Murkowski’s office said the senator is adamant about keeping Dr. Robert Califf off the FDA’s payroll until he makes assurances that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such. Karina Petersen, Murkowski’s director of communications, said the senator believes Califf would be a fit FDA chief, but that this one item is too important to overlook.

Senators can only put a hold on a nomination once the nominee has been moved out of committee, which happened on Jan. 12. Any senator can stop a nominee from receiving a floor vote with such an action. Murkowski said she plans to have discussions with Califf before deciding whether or not to place a hold on his confirmation.

“I will vote him out of committee today, but I just want my friends and colleagues to be on notice that I have these concerns and I would like to get them resolved before his name moves forward to the Senate floor,” Murkowski said.

The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon for human consumption, but Alaska politicians doubt the science and fear the economic consequences. Alaska fishermen’s wild caught sockeye will have to compete with genetically altered fish, which splice salmon and ocean pout genes to grow at twice the rate of wild salmon.

Last year’s omnibus package included language that orders the FDA to not allow the genetically engineered salmon into the market until the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines. Currently, the FDA allows for voluntary labeling of genetically modified fish, but does not require it.

Murkowski and others say the FDA should require that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such; customers, they say, won’t be able to tell the difference between genetically modified salmon and wild salmon if laid beside each other on a retail rack.

“I want to make sure that the FDA knows that voluntary labeling guidelines really are not sufficient,” said Murkowski in a release. “It does not comply with what is now law. I want to make sure, be very, very certain, that when we are talking about these genetically engineered fish for human consumption, voluntary labeling is not adequate.”

The Alaska senator is finding an ally in Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders said Califf is “not the man” to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, and that he is considering withholding his support for Califf’s nomination.

DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].

Updated: 
12/06/2016 - 4:25pm