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First-Ever U.S. Labeling Law for Genetically Engineered Food Passes in Alaska

May 12th, 2005

The nation’s first-ever labeling legislation for genetically engineered food is poised to become law in Alaska after being passed unanimously by both the state Senate and House. In a move widely seen as a bellwether for similar legislation across the country, the Alaska House approved Senate Bill No. 25 requiring that genetically engineered fish be “conspicuously labeled to identify the fish or fish product as a genetically modified fish or fish product,” whether packaged or unpackaged. The bill, approved unanimously by the Senate in March and the House in May, is now on its way to the governor.

“The labeling law in Alaska marks a watershed event in the labeling of genetically engineered foods,” said Tracie Letterman, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. “When 90 percent of Americans want biotech foods labeled, it’s only a matter of time before states fill in the regulatory gap left by the Federal government’s failure to require mandatory labeling. Alaska is merely the first.”

Numerous jurisdictions around the country have passed or are working on legislation to regulate genetically engineered foods in the absence of U.S. government oversight or restrictions. Often these bills are intended to protect local farming from biotech contamination or human health and the environment. A Rutgers University poll published in November 2004 confirmed earlier findings that nine-out-of-ten Americans (89 percent in the most recent poll) want to have genetically engineered foods labeled.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing an application for approval to commercialize genetically engineered salmon developed to grow much more rapidly that wild salmon.

“I am encouraged by the bi-partisan support this bill received,” said Senator Kim Elton in a press release from his office. “It is a sign that, when it comes to seafood, Alaskans stand up for informed consumers and friends and neighbors working in the wild fish industry.”

The legislation identifies genetically modified fish as “a finfish or shellfish whose genetic structure has been (A) altered at the molecular level by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes, including recombinant DNA and RNA techniques, cell fusion, gene deletion or doubling, introduction of exogenous genetic material, alteration of the position of a gene, or similar procedure; (B) the progeny of a finfish or shellfish described in (A) of this paragraph.” The term “genetically modified fish product” is defined as any “…product prepared from a genetically modified fish.”

“It will only take a few more states to enact similar legislation before the U.S. biotech food industry is forced to label all genetically engineered foods,” said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of Center for Food Safety. “Currently, the food industry has to label for European and other markets and soon will have to label for individual states. It’s time for the government to do what nearly all Americans want and label all engineered foods.”

Center for Food Safety (CFS) reviewed the language of the bill and worked to support its passage. CFS has worked around the country in support of labeling legislation for genetically engineered foods and to prevent genetically engineered fish from invading our oceans and harming human health.

To view the Center for Food Safety’s letter of support and to access the bill click here

To View Senator Elton’s Web site click here

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