BIO letter to Governor Murkowski expressing concern with Senate Bill 25

Dear Governor Murkowski:

On behalf of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), we would like
to express concern about a bill before you: Senate Bill 25, “An Act relating
to labeling and identification of genetically modified fish and fish products.”
BIO strongly supports existing federal requirements for accurate and
informative food labels. These labeling requirements communicate
information that is relevant to health, safety and nutrition of all food
products sold in the United States.

State-based labeling requirements, like Senate Bill 25, that differ from
previously established, stringently enforced federal guidelines, provide no
value for consumers and only serve to disparage foods improved by
biotechnology. In addition, Senate Bill 25 is contrary to existing Alaska state
law that calls for conformity with federal food labeling guidelines. We hope
you will consider the attached letter from Food & Drug Administration
(dated 10/4/2002) on a similar issue as well as the following facts:

The requirements of Senate Bill 25 contradict existing Alaska state and
federal laws. Title 17 of Alaska Statute Law (Sec. 17.20.010) states, “the
definitions and standards adopted [by the State] shall conform as far as
practicable to the definitions and standards adopted under authority of the
Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).” The U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) does not require labeling of foods derived from
biotechnology (genetically modified food) unless that food differs
significantly in terms of safety, nutrition, how the food is used, or the
consequences of its use. Senate Bill 25 would establish a threshold for
labeling that does not exist in federal statute.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s labeling guidance requires that a
food label must reveal all material facts about that food. For instance, the
FDCA requires that if a biotech food differs significantly from a
conventional food in its nutritional or allergenic properties that fact must be
disclosed on the label. The FDA has taken a science-based approach in
developing this guidance and decided biotech foods do not inherently
“present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by
[conventional methods].” FDA uses the principal of "substantial
equivalence"—focusing on the final product, not the process used to develop
a food product, to determine how it should be labeled. In addition,
mandatory labeling requirements that vary from state-to-state would not only
conflict with FDA guidelines, but would be costly and confusing to
consumers.

Proposals similar to Senate Bill 25 have been struck-down in federal
court. In 1996, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a Vermont
law requiring the labeling of milk products from cows treated with
biotechnology-derived growth hormone. The Court ruled mandatory
labeling of this kind to be unconstitutional, forced speech. Following that
decision, a number of states, including Alaska (Alaska Stat. § 17.20.013),
adopted laws to regulate the voluntary labeling for milk from cows that were
not treated with growth hormones. Consistent with FDA policy, these
voluntary labeling guidelines require that such labels clearly state that no
significant difference has been shown between milk derived from cows that
are treated with the growth hormone and those that are not.

Senate Bill 25 proposes a solution to a situation that does not yet exist in
Alaska, or in any state. There has yet to be single biotech fish product
approved for human consumption by the FDA. Therefore, this legislation
proposes to regulate a food product that does not yet exist. Alaska should
not preempt federal decision-making on this issue. Rather, if sellers of
conventionally-bred fish wish to label their products as such, they are free to
do so in a truthful and non-misleading way according to FDA guidelines
(www.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/biotechm.html#label). Alaska should not force
fish breeders to make disclosures that FDA has deemed are not relevant to
the health and safety of consumers.

We strongly encourage that you not enact Senate Bill 25. If you have
any questions or would like additional information on this topic, please feel
free to contact Patrick Kelly at 202-962-9503 [email protected] or Dr. Barbara
Glenn, Director of Animal Biotechnology at 202-962-6697 [email protected].
Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Respectfully submitted,

Patrick M. Kelly
Vice President
State Government Relations
Biotechnology Industry Organization

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) represents more than 1,000 biotechnology
companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in 46 U.S.states and 33 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of health care, agricultural, industrial, and environmental biotechnology products.