Outraged Republican Senator Vows to Block Appointment of FDA Commissioner Over GMO Salmon
Dr. Robert Califf, the Obama administration's choice for the next commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was easily approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Tuesday, but the candidate's approval by the full Senate faces an unlikely hurdle: fish.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is threatening to block Califf over the FDA's approval of genetically engineered salmon, or GMO salmon.
I cont'd my fight against GE salmon by moving forward w/my hold on the nom. of Dr. Califf to be FDA Commissioner. https://t.co/4Y20Zms2vf— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@Sen. Lisa Murkowski)1452639983.0
In November, the FDA approved the first genetically engineered food animal. AquaBounty’s GMO salmon—dubbed “Frankenfish” by opponents—is genetically altered to grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon. The FDA did not require the product to carry a label, making it difficult for consumers to distinguish between non-GMO and GMO salmon.
Murkowski made it clear she is not happy with the FDA's decision. According to The New York Times, "She said she would put a hold on Dr. Califf’s candidacy because the FDA approved a genetically engineered salmon for consumption days after she questioned him on the topic at his confirmation hearing in November."
Califf, a former Duke University researcher and cardiologist, is currently the deputy commissioner of the FDA.
"If they are trying to get my support, they sure fumbled that ball," she said after the Senate committee approved the nomination on a voice vote.
Murkowski comes from a major salmon-producing state and has been adamantly opposed to GMO salmon. Here is the senator speaking on the Senate floor in November against the fish.
“I will not stand back and just watch these genetically engineered creatures be placed in our kitchens and on our tables without a fight," she said in a statement following the after FDA’s approval of GMO salmon. "I am furious about this decision, but now I must do everything I can to make sure it is labeled—consumers have a right to know what it is they are eating.”
Besides threatening to block Califf's confirmation, Murkowski "helped insert language last month in a massive federal spending bill, directing FDA to prevent the AquaBounty product from reaching the U.S. market until regulators finalize labeling guidelines. It also tells the agency to spend 'not less than $150,000' on that effort," The Washington Post reported.
On Tuesday, the senator said she wants to make sure FDA knows that "voluntarily labeling is not adequate. I’m going to be pushing for further conversations with Dr. Califf on this."
She also tweeted: "I look forward to having conversations w/FDA on Frankenfish, but I intend to block Califf’s confirmation until these issues are resolved."
I look forward to having conversations w/FDA on Frankenfish, but I intend to block Califf’s confirmation until these issues are resolved.— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@Sen. Lisa Murkowski)1452640095.0
As it happens, Califf's confirmation also has another roadblock: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The Democratic presidential candidate has threatened to block the nominee due to Califf's ties to industry. According to the Associated Press:
In 2006, Califf founded the Duke University Clinical Research Institute, a contract research group that has conducted studies for virtually all of the world's largest drugmakers. Government disclosure forms show that Califf received more than $29,000 in consulting fees, travel, meals and other payments from drugmakers in 2014.
Sanders has said that the country needs an FDA commissioner who will stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and that Califf is "not that person."
Senate panel votes to approve Dr. Robert Califf as commissioner of FDA: https://t.co/NJAlapHbau— The Associated Press (@The Associated Press)1452632464.0
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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