Federal “Compromise” Bill on Labeling Genetically Modified Foods Questioned
By MARY KAUFFMAN
July 10, 2016
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor prior to the final vote on the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act. The legislation would allow the Agriculture Department to determine which foods qualify as genetically modified and let companies choose the method of disclosing genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients to consumers.
On the Senate floor, Murkowski voiced her opposition to the bill because it does not mandate clear, unequivocal labels on genetically engineered (GE) salmon, while also preempting Alaska’s labeling law.
Alaska House Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) has also been a vocal advocate for a strong labeling system in Alaska. She is concerned the federal legislation would limit the ability for individual states to implement stricter labeling requirements than the proposed national system.
“I stand with the eighty percent of Americans who support mandatory labeling and applaud the goal to allow consumers to learn whether or not the food they are buying and consuming contains genetically modified ingredients,” said Rep. Tarr. “However, limiting the ability for states like Alaska to implement stricter labeling standards smacks of the federal overreach we hear so much about.”
Alaska has had a law on the books since 2006 requiring genetically modified fish to be labeled on products sold in Alaska. The law has not yet been needed, but that could soon change because last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of the first genetically modified salmon as food for humans. The Alaska Legislature is on record opposing the creation and sale of a genetically engineered salmon, which many have dubbed “Frankenfish.” In 2013, the Legislature passed a resolution, sponsored by Rep. Tarr, urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require labeling for genetically modified salmon.
“I am concerned that the good labeling law we have in Alaska will be superseded by this much weaker federal law that gives companies a range of disclosure options if they sell a product that includes genetically modified ingredients,” said Rep. Tarr. “While I applaud the compromise bill for including a mandatory disclosure requirement, it is too loose on how to meet that requirement and does not acknowledge the consumers right to know what they are buying and eating. I still support a simple disclosure on the food package.”
The legislation, approved Thursday by the U.S. Senate, allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine what foods are considered genetically modified. The bill also gives food producers great leeway as to how consumers are alerted of genetically modified ingredients. Producers can use words or pictures on the product or a bar code that can be scanned using a smartphone.
Both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, voted no on passage of the Biotechnology Labeling Solutions Act. The legislation now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.
U.S. Senator Murkowski has continuously fought to secure a mandatory labeling requirement for GE salmon and most recently included a provision in the Agriculture appropriations bill that requires the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to mandate labeling of GE salmon. That bill passed the full Senate Appropriations Committee in May.
Alaska House Rep. Tarr on Friday urged Alaska’s Congressional delegation to support Alaska’s fishermen and consumers by continuing efforts to strengthen the proposed genetically modified food labeling bill to be more in line with Alaska’s 2006 law and a new Vermont law that went into effect on July 1, 2016.
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