A GMO labeling bill has been introduced in the Alaska legislature, and sponsors are now trying to build public support by screening a film around the state.

Downloadable audio.

“GMO OMG” will be shown in Sitka at 5:30 PM Thursday, March 12, in the downtown Coliseum Theater. Sitka resident and anti-GMO activist Brett Wilcox will be available to take audience questions on the issue. Wilcox and his 16-year-old son, David, spent six-months last year running coast-to-coast to raise awareness about GMO’s.

GMOOMGposterAnchorage Representative Geran Tarr has been working for a couple of years to require food manufacturers to identify any GMO’s — or Genetically Modified Organisms — on the ingredient labels that are already found on most grocery store products.

“It’s really a consumer-right-to-know issue. People want to know what’s in the food they’re eating. And for the folks that have concerns about GMO’s and want to pick foods without genetically-modified ingredients, this gives them the opportunity to read through that ingredient list and choose the product they want to buy.”

A handful of states have passed labeling bills, though none have become effective yet. Tarr says 60 other countries require GMO labeling. She believes that Alaska’s legislation will contribute to the growing momentum in the US to identify GMO’s on many of the same or similar products sold here.

Tarr says ten states have bills in the works, but one state could flip things in a hurry.

“In similar sort of product manufacturing changes, when something changes in California it often means that things change in the entire market. California considered GMO labeling as a ballot proposition that narrowly failed. GMO folks spent about $46-million opposing that ballot proposition.

Agricultural states like California have by far the largest commercial stake in GMO’s.
Prior to Tarr’s bill, Alaska has been more focused on the first genetically-modified animal for human consumption. The Alaska Legislature in 2005 required labeling of any genetically-modified salmon sold in the state, but so far the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved what opponents refer to as “Frankenfish” — although a decision is pending.

House Bill 92 was introduced into the Resources Committee on March 9, and is being held for further consideration. Tarr, a Democrat, has not brought in any Republican co-sponsorship yet, but she says bipartisan cooperation is likely. Tarr says she’s received over 1,500 emails regarding GMO labeling, and the issue seems more personal than political.

“Its supporters are a very diverse group of people. You have really conservative people who are thinking, I have a fundamental right to know what’s in my food and the government has a responsibility to make that process necessary. And then you have people kind of on the other end of the spectrum who are concerned about environmental issues and agricultural crop diversity, and what we’re doing in terms of pesticide use.”

The costs of HB 92 are uncertain. The financial analysis attached to the bill says that it will create an increased regulatory burden for the Department of Environmental Conservation, and there will be staff training costs. Tarr says the bill — which covers both animal and plant products — will not affect food sold in restaurants.

A documentary film called GMO OMG is being screened around the state to coincide with the introduction of HB 92. Tarr says that 75 people attended the showing in Fairbanks, she expected large turnouts for screenings in Sitka, Anchorage, Juneau.

The co-sponsors so far of HB92 are Rep. Scott Kawasaki and House Minority Leader Chris Tuck.