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Two News Items from Alaska
These news reports come from our friends at thecampaign.org and drcnet.org
Bill Requires Labeling Genetically Altered Fish
Genetically altered fish will need to be labeled as such when products are to be sold in Alaska.
That's the effect of Senate Bill 25, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau. The Alaska House approved the measure unanimously on May 9. It had previously won unanimous support in the Senate.
Known as the "Frankenfish" bill, the measure is headed for the governor's desk.
"The message that Alaska seafood is more natural than seafood that has been engineered in a lab is a highly important marketing tool," Stevens said. "This bill helps highlight Alaska seafood as distinct from genetically modified seafood, doing away with any vagueness that may exist to the consumer when purchasing seafood without labeling, and reinforcing the natural message."
Prompting lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 25 was the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering an application by an aquaculture company to sell a genetically modified, growth-enhanced salmon. According to a press release from Elton's office, Atlantic salmon are expected to be the first species slated for genetic modification, but catfish, tilapia and others would follow.
Meanwhile, according to the Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force, a biotech company called Aqua Bounty has sought Canadian approval to use genetically modified fish in Canada's fish farms, Elton said.
"I am encouraged by the bipartisan support this bill received," he said. "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."
According to Stevens and Elton, legislation requiring labeling genetically modified fish products already exists in the European Union, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. SB 25 is similar to legislation introduced in Oregon and California.
The bill requires Alaska retailers to identify and label foods containing fish and shellfish, or fish and shellfish products, which have been genetically modified.
Marijuana Remains Legal in AlaskaAlaska remains the only state in the union where adults may legally possess marijuana, after the state legislature ended its session without acting on a bill sponsored by Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) to recriminalize it. With Murkowski's political future uncertain and the legislature having demonstrated its lack of a sense of urgency on the issue, prospects for the bill's revival next year are hazy.
"This reaffirms my faith that the right thing can happen sometimes in spite of everything," said a relieved Krissy Oechslin, assistant communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which worked with local groups to oppose the bill.
While Murkowski had threatened to add the bill to a special session later this year if it didn't come to a vote during the regular session, that will not happen, Oeschlin said. "The bill is not on the special session calendar," she told DRCNet.
When the Alaska Supreme Court last year upheld a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling that legalized the possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in the privacy of one's home, Murkowski and the state's law enforcement establishment vowed to override the courts and recriminalize it. In January, Murkowski acted on that promise, sending the legislature a bill that would not only recriminalize marijuana possession, but also create felonies out of pot offenses that are currently misdemeanors.
Governor Says He Wants Marijuana
While Murkowski and his allies in law enforcement hoped to steamroll the bill through the legislature, the legislature proved remarkably resistant. After being stalled in committee for a month, it looked as if the bill might move to the Senate floor. Last week, as the clock ticked down toward Tuesday's adjournment, Murkowski called the bill a "must have," adding, "I want marijuana this session."
But legislators had other priorities – the budget, public employee retirement funding, workers compensation funding – and they showed little enthusiasm for taking up the marijuana bill. Helping to dampen any enthusiasm was a strong showing by both drug reformers and the citizens of Alaska.
Former deputy corrections commissioner Bill Parker led the blocking effort for Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control, the in-state group that works in conjunction with MPP to advance the cause of marijuana law reform in Alaska. In hearings earlier this session, reformers and expert witnesses effectively refuted the litany of charges Murkowski and his allies were making against marijuana. "MPP and the ACLU of Alaska produced a lot of expert witnesses and a stack of testimony four feet high," he said. "We also had radio ads asking people to send in cards and letters to their representatives, and that had a huge response," Parker said.
It wasn't just organized opposition. The issue generated dozens of letters to the editor from concerned citizens. "There was all sorts of organic stuff happening," Parker said. "We had witnesses show up who we had never even heard of." That should come as no surprise in a state where 44% of the electorate voted to legalize marijuana completely in November. The state's three largest newspapers also editorialized against the bill.
When asked what happened to Murkowski's push, Parker laughed. "The governor has maranoia, but the legislature doesn't suffer from that," he said. "It didn't really have a champion in the legislature, no one really pushed for it -- a lot of legislators told us they didn't even want to vote on it. Both caucuses in both houses were reluctant to touch this," he said.
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