Alaska needs to order labeling of frankenfoods -- especially salmon

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 U.S. 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, Frankenapple.

GMOs are plants or animals modified to include genetic material from a nonrelated 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 modified fish can compete better for food than their wild relatives, and contamination of our wild salmon would be devastating.

Adequate testing has not been conducted to discern the long-term health impacts of eating engineered fish. Over 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 GMO food so that consumers know what we're putting on our plates.

At the federal level, Sen. Lisa 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. Scott 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 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 U.S.

Labeling of genetically modified foods is already required in Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Legislation to require labeling is pending in 20 other states.

To give Alaskans a chance to learn more, events are scheduled across the state Monday through March 13. We'll be screening the award-winning film "GMO OMG" and giving Alaskans the chance to ask questions about genetically modified foods. Times and locations are listed below.

If you're in Juneau, I invite you to stop by the Capitol for some of my homemade non-GMO apple pie on March 13 and learn more.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, represents the neighborhoods of Airport Heights, Mountain View, and Russian Jack. She can be reached at (907) 360- 4047 or Rep. Geran Tarr @akleg.gov.

Alaskans are invited to join their neighbors and learn more about engineered foods:Fairbanks: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Blue Loon; Anchorage: 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Anchorage Museum; Sitka: 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Coliseum Theatre-Downtown. Juneau: Sample homemade, non-GMO apple pie from noon to 1 p.m. March 13 in the Capitol with Reps. Geran Tarr and Scott Kawasaki. View the documentary "GMO OMG" at 6 p.m. March 13 in the Butrovich Room at the Capitol.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com