Bill To Label GE Fish Fails in California Legislature


Posted on 25 January 2012

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By Dan Bacher

You would think that a simple bill requiring the labeling of Frankenfish would pass easily through the California Legislature.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, since Assemblymembers apparently beholden to the bioegineering and biotechnology industry voted last week against a bill, AB 88, that would have required that all genetically engineered (GE) fish sold in California contain clear and prominent labeling.

The legislation, authored by Assemblymember Jared Huffman (D-6), failed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee by a vote of 9-7. Assemblymembers Harkey, Calderon, Hall, Nielson, Norby, Solorio, Wagner, Campos and Donnelly voted no on the bill, while Fuentes, Bradford, Chesbro, Gatto, Hill, Ammiano and Mitchell voted yes.

Assemblymember Blumenfield, who voted for the bill last May, was out of the room during the vote.

"It's shameful that nine members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee chose to keep consumers in the dark as to whether salmon sold in California is genetically engineered or not, should GE Salmon be approved by the FDA," said Marie Logan of Food and Water Watch. "We will continue to fight for labeling of all genetically engineered foods and continue to urge the FDA to not approve GE salmon, so that this potentially risky product never reaches grocery store shelves. Food & Water Watch will continue working to support national legislation that would stop the approval of GE salmon by the FDA."

The legislation, AB 88, was stalled in Appropriations last year, and was held-over for reintroduction this session by Assemblymember Huffman. This bill is modeled after similar legislation passed in the state of Alaska in 2005 that requires labeling of all genetically modified seafood.

"While we are disappointed that AB 88 failed today, we are encouraged by the level of support the bill received in a tough Committee," according to a statement from the Center for Food Safety (CFS). "The bill’s failure in Committee came despite clear consumer demand for labeling of GE fish."

As Huffman told TakePart, “If we had put this bill before the people of California, it would have passed overwhelmingly.”  

Consumer, environmental and fishing groups oppose the approval of genetically engineered salmon and other fish by the federal Food and Drug Administration because of its potential human health impacts and the danger presented to struggling West Coast salmon populations if the GE fish escape from aquaculture facilities. They supported the legislation as a way of safeguarding human health in California if efforts to stop the approval of Frankenfish at the federal level fail.

BIOCOM, an organization representing the biotechnology and life sciences industry, opposed the Legislation by claiming that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) "closely regulates" the use of bioengineering and biotechnology in foods and is currently reviewing the approval of consumption of genetically engineered salmon. BIOCOM argued that it should be left to the FDA to determine whether or not labeling should be required on these products.

The Frankenfish issue is not going to go away as long as AquaBounty’s salmon is on the table for FDA consideration and while other biotech corporations push for the approval of GE animals. The Obama administration, the same administration that is pushing for the privatization of ocean public trust resources through "catch shares" program and the construction of a peripheral canal that will destroy Central Valley salmon and California Delta fish populations, has also put the GE salmon approval process on the fast-track.

On December 19, a coalition of 11 food safety, environmental, consumer and fisheries organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) calling for a halt to its approval of a genetically engineered (GE) salmon after learning that the company’s – AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. – research site was contaminated with a new strain of Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA), the deadly fish flu that is devastating fish stocks around the world.

“This new information calls into question the reliability of AquaBounty’s data and the validity of its claims that their fish are safe for the environment” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety. “The FDA must respond appropriately and conduct their own environmental impact statement that looks at a broad range of environmental risks from these genetically engineered salmon, including the risk of spreading diseases such as ISA and antibiotic use for other diseases.”

The coalition included the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Center for Environmental Health, Alliance for Natural Health USA, Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, PCC Natural Markets, Organic Consumers Association, Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and Mangrove Action Project.

Legislation advocating a ban on GE salmon, S. 230, and mandatory labeling, S. 229, is making its through the U.S. Senate.

Legislation advocating a ban on GE salmon, H.R. 521, and mandatory labeling, H.R. 520, is also proceeding through the U.S. House of Representatives.

For more information on GE fish, visit CFS’s campaign website, http://www.ge-fish.org, or Food and Water Watch's website.

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Dan Bacher is an editor of The Fish Sniffer, described as "The #1 Newspaper in the World Dedicated Entirely to Fishermen."

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