Murkowski Raises Alaska Interests with FDA Commissioner Nominee

Calls for Focus on Vaping Epidemic, ALS Research, Seafood Advice, and GE Salmon

The nominee to serve as the next U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Dr. Stephen M. Hahn is moving through the vetting process in the U.S. Senate, with a nomination hearing today in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. During the Senate HELP Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski raised a range of Alaska interests with Dr. Hahn, including the epidemic of e-cigarettes and vaping, ALS research, FDA seafood advice, and labeling requirements for Genetically Engineered (GE) Salmon.

FDA Nom - 11.22.19  

Senator Murkowski began her remarks by echoing the concerns of her Senate colleagues regarding nicotine addiction and the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products among youth, and thanked Dr. Hahn for committing to addressing the epidemic.

“I want to add my voice to so many on the committee that have expressed concern on what we are seeing with rising levels of nicotine addiction through the e-cig and vaping products-- just the dangers that we know with kids and nicotine. We are absolutely going the wrong way when it comes to nicotine addiction,” said Senator Murkowski. “After making the turn, if you will, on that trend, to see where we are now is not only alarming, it’s frightening.”

During the hearing, Senator Murkowski noted the importance of patient partnerships when it comes to research and asked Dr. Hahn for his commitment to ensuring the voices of ALS patients, as well as other patients dealing with terminal diseases, are heard by the FDA.

“One of the things that I have learned with all of my interactions with the ALS advocates is that patient partnership is really essential to move forward in the research,” said Senator Murkowski. “Your predecessor had committed to the ALS community in meetings with patients, that he would have patients in every Investigational New Drug Meeting. I think that making that kind of commitment is important. I think that it’s important that at these meetings, the question be asked ‘who here is the patient at the table’ to ensure that those patient voices are heard throughout the trial process.”

Senator Murkowski also raised the FDA’s current, flawed advice surrounding seafood consumption and the benefits for pregnant women and fetal development. Senator Murkowski stated that in 2014 the FDA published a study on the net effects of seafood consumption for pregnant and for nursing women. Murkowski went on to explain that the FDA did not rely on that science in developing the current seafood consumption advice, but rather based their advice on the Environmental Protection Agency’s mercury reference dose. She noted that in her view, the EPA’s toxicology standard ignores the benefits of seafood and measures risks in isolation. Murkowski asked Dr. Hahn if he was willing to help correct this issue.

“I don’t want to throw out statistics out here, but there is an average of 7.7 point increase in IQ for babies whose moms ate seafood during pregnancy. You want a smart baby? Eat that seafood now and in good quantities,” said Senator Murkowski.

Murkowski ended her comments by discussing her ongoing concerns over Genetically Engineered salmon, the first genetically engineered animal to have been approved by the FDA, noting that nearly 2 million Americans submitted comments to the FDA opposing that approval. She asked Dr. Hahn to commit to helping ensure clear, consistent labeling requirements for any GE Salmon that enters the U.S. market. Specifically, she called on Dr. Hahn to agree to work towards establishing a regulatory system, outside of the FDA’s New Animal Drug Approval Process, that is appropriate for approving GE Salmon and GE animals for human consumption.