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Alaskans need to know what’s in food

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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Community Perspective

FAIRBANKS — What could be more wholesome and American than apples and apple pie? Or salmon. What could be healthier and more Alaskan than feeding your family salmon? There’s nothing more basic than feeding yourself or your family. But in the strange, new world of genetically modified foods, do Alaskans really know what we’re eating? Pending state and federal legislation requiring food labeling would give Alaskans basic tools to make informed choices about what we’re feeding our families. 

As many Alaskans already know, the federal Food and Drug Administration is considering an application to approve the first genetically modified fish. A Massachusetts-based company produced a freakishly fast-growing salmon by implanting genes from an eel-like fish and Chinook salmon into Atlantic salmon. We’ve come to know this genetically modified animal as Frankenfish. It’s the first time the FDA would approve a genetically modified animal for human consumption. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved apples that have been genetically modified. Welcome to our plates, the Frankenapple. 

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals modified to include genetic material from a non-related species. Genetically modified foods present many risks. For salmon, there are concerns about the fish’s impact on the market and the risk of genetically modified fish escaping into the wild. Research has shown that the genetically modified fish can out-compete their wild relatives and contamination of our wild salmon would be devastating. 

Adequate testing has not been done to whether there are long-term health impacts from eating engineered fish. More than 1.8 million individuals as well as broad range of fishing trade groups, consumer and health advocacy organizations, and leading chefs oppose approval of Frankenfish. Sixty retailers, including Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country have pledged not to sell Frankenfish. 

For crops, concerns include increased pesticide use,

pesticide-resistant weeds, losing genetic diversity in food crops and questions about long term health effects. 

Despite federal action, Alaskans continue to lead the opposition to the dangerous introduction of Frankenfish and other genetically modified foods. An important strategy we’ve adopted is to require the labeling of genetically modified food so that consumers know what we’re putting on our plates. 

On the federal level, Senator Murkowski has offered amendments to the 2015 agriculture spending bill to require labeling of genetically engineered salmon. 

On the state level, I, along with Rep. Kawasaki, have introduced House Bill 92, “GMO Labeling.” This bill would require labeling of genetically modified food products sold in Alaska. 

The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that does not already require labeling of genetically modified foods. More than 60 other countries, including China and Russia, require labeling if food includes genetically modified ingredients. Many of these same products are sold on the shelves of our supermarkets without labeling. Since these companies are already producing products with labeling for their products sold worldwide, it shouldn’t take much to switch the packaging to show the genetically modified ingredients for products sold in the US. 

Labeling of genetically modified foods is already required in Maine, Vermont and Connecticut. Legislation to require labeling is pending in twenty other states. 

To give Alaskans a chance to learn more, events are scheduled across Alaska the week of March 9-13. We’ll be screening the award winning film “GMO OMG” and giving Alaskans the chance to ask questions about genetically modified foods. 

If you’re in Juneau, I invite you to stop by the capitol for some of my homemade non-GMO apple pie on Friday, March 13 and learn more. In Fairbanks, there will be a GMO awareness event at 5:30 pm March 10 at the Blue Loon.

Representative Geran Tarr represents the Anchorage neighborhoods of Airport Heights, Mountain View and Russian Jack. She can be reached at Rep.Geran.Tarr@akleg.gov.

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