Good news for Alaska's fishers: Seafood labeling could take effect soon

Posted: Tuesday, June 04, 2002

Sen. Frank Murkowski already had success in securing language in the federal farm bill that within two years would require that seafood products be labeled with their country of origin and whether the fish was caught in the wild or farm raised. In the meantime, such labeling would be voluntary.

Now, Murkowski is hoping to get the mandatory requirement on the books much sooner -- a move that consequently would bring good news to Alaska fisheries and consumers that much sooner.

Onto the trade bill recently approved by the Senate, Murkowski attached an amendment that would make the labeling requirement go into effect within 180 days of the legislation becoming law. The bill still must be reconciled with the House version.

While this expedited requirement is not yet set in stone, it would be excellent news for Alaska's salmon fishermen who have been facing increased competition from foreign fish farms. In light of such competition, Alaskan fisheries' share of the world salmon market has markedly declined in recent years, primarily because of products from farms in Norway, Chile and Canada. For the fishermen whose livelihood depends on a strong market for fresh Alaskan salmon products, this new provision could help make the difference between folding and earning a living.

While the status of the state's fisheries is vital to our economy, this measure also is important for another reason: Consumers deserve to know whether the seafood product they are buying traveled just a few hours or across a few continents to get to the supermarket. ''Now, with these changes, consumers will know what they are buying. This should help distinguish between Alaska's wild salmon, which are clearly superior, and the farmed products now flooding the markets,'' Sen. Murkowski said after the labeling requirement was included in the farm bill.

Not only will the requirement cover fresh seafood products, but it will require country of origin labels for meats and agricultural commodities as well. While some of these items, particularly produce, already are labeled with where they came from, it's good practice to make it a mandatory requirement for all.

We demand truth in labeling and basic nutrition information on everything from canned peas to cereal. Why not demand the same for our seafood, particularly when it can have such a drastic and positive effect on Alaska fisheries?

-- The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

June 2

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