WASHINGTON — Robert Califf, President Obama’s nominee to be the next commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, overcame one hurdle on Tuesday, Jan. 12, only to face even more as his nomination wends its way through the political process.
On Jan. 12, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) voted to approve Dr. Califf. The next step in the process is for the full Senate to vote on the nomination.
But Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she will place a hold on Dr. Califf’s confirmation proceedings if her concerns regarding the F.D.A.s approval of genetically engineered salmon are not addressed.
“Dr. Califf’s nomination hearing was just two days before the F.D.A. made its announcement that they were going to move forward with allowing genetically engineered fish for the first time for human consumption,” Ms. Murkowski said. “I have to admit I was really taken aback that he was not direct with me. He clearly knows that’s a priority of Alaskans and certainly this senator. I said at that time I need to have an understanding of where the F.D.A. is going on this issue and I would put a hold on his nomination as it moves forward.
“What I would like to make clear to my colleagues is that we have attempted to address some of the issues that I have raised through the appropriations bill that we moved forward in December. We included language that would require the F.D.A. to not allow the introduction into interstate commerce of any product containing genetically engineered salmon until the F.D.A. publishes final labeling guidelines. I want the assurances that in fact is what is going to happen.”
Ms. Murkowski is a member of the HELP committee and she voted in favor of moving Dr. Califf’s nomination to the full Senate, but she made clear her vote was simply a procedural move, because a hold may not be placed on a nominee until it reaches the full Senate.
“So I’m going to be pushing for further conversations with Dr. Califf on this,” she said. “I will vote to move 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.”
On Nov. 19, the F.D.A. said AquAdvantage, an Atlantic salmon genetically enhanced to reach market size in less time than conventionally farmed Atlantic salmon, is as safe to eat and as nutritious as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon. The F.D.A. thus approved a new animal drug application from AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. for the production, sale and consumption of its AquAdvantage salmon.