One state's push to require labelling of genetically modified foods -- which would likely include Massachusetts-based AquaBounty Technologies' genetically-engineered salmon -- may be overridden by federal legislation.
Also read, The Drum Beat is Building for Mandatory GMO Labelling in Canada.
A senate bill, S764, also known as the Roberts-Stabenow bill after the senators who sponsored it, would amend a 1946 law on agricultural marketing to allow the secretary of agriculture to create a national standard on "bioengineered foods". Information about whether the foods contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) will be able to accessed through a voluntary system of digital codes such as QR codes, rather than mandatory package labels as sought by some critics of GMOs.
The federal bill, which passed on July 7 by a 63 to 30 vote, will now go to a legislative committee to resolve differences in the house and senate versions of the bill before being sent to president Barack Obama for his signature or veto.
In addition to implementing national standards for bioengineered foods, the bill would override a GMO labelling law in the state of Vermont, a measure that made labelling required, not voluntary, and avoid the creation of a "patchwork" regulatory regime with potentially differing state-by-state requirements.
But critics of the bill have dubbed it the "Deny Americans the Right to Know" DARK Act and urged lawmakers to vote it down.
"If accepted, Americans will remain in the dark about what we feed our families. We are deeply disappointed in the members of Congress who supported this bill and who did not stand with the vast majority of Americans who want mandatory on-package GMO labeling," the activist group Friends of the Earth said in a statement to Undercurrent News.
The bill does not specifically address genetically modified fish, a subject that gained national attention in November last year when AquaBounty, which received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell its AquaAdvantage salmon in the US. But Dave Conley, AquaBpunty's corporate communications director, called it a positive development.
"We hope that federal pre-emption will address the labeling issue in the US. At least it should forestall inconsistent state by state label laws which would have a devastating impact on food distribution in the US," he wrote in an email to Undercurrent.
The company has been developing its faster-growing fish for nearly two decades and has said its salmon cuts the production cycle of market-weight salmon from roughly three years to 16-18 months by injecting fertilized king salmon eggs with genes from pout, an eel-type fish. But the development has raised the ire of some environmental and food safety groups, as well some in the Alaskan wild salmon industry for fears that escapements of modified salmon could breed with wild stocks.
AquaBounty has dismissed those concerns and pointed to the approvals it has received from US and Canadian food safety regulators.
But members of Alaska's congressional delegation, members of which have been vocally opposed to genetically modified salmon, voted against the bill and vowed to fight on.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-Alaska), in a speech on the senate floor prior to the July 7 vote described genetically-engineered salmon as distinct from GMO crops, dubbing it "a little bit of a science experiment here."
"We take very seriously the issues that present themselves with the introduction of a new species that has the potential to wreak havoc, to do harm to our wild stocks," she said.
In December last year Murkowski sponsored an amendment to the 2016 federal budget bill that bars genetically modified salmon from entering the US in 2016 until regulators develop labeling guidelines, even though no modified salmon is expected to be ready until at least 2017.
Source Jason Smith, Undercurrent News
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