Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/25/2004 01:07 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 35-MAD COW DISEASE/COUNTRY OF ORIGIN LABELS CO-CHAIR MASEK announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 35, Relating to mad cow disease and country-of-origin labeling for meat products. CO-CHAIR MASEK noted that CSHJR 35(L&C) was before the committee. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA, speaking as sponsor, noted that her staff would be presenting the resolution, and she remarked, "The ex-director of agriculture, who was also the ex-Senator we just heard about, was evidently a better farmer than he was lawyer, so I can tell you that he's worked very hard on this particular piece of legislation, and it's basically a labeling piece of legislation ... supporting that." CO-CHAIR MASEK inquired about the changes made in the committee substitute (CS) and asked that Representative Kerttula's staff speak to those changes. Number 2553 AURORA HAUKE, Staff to Representative Beth Kerttula, presented CSHJR 35(L&C) on behalf of Representative Kerttula, sponsor. Ms. Hauke explained that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), "mad cow disease," and the disease humans can get from it, the Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), are very scary. The diseases are invariably fatal and there is no cure, but they can be prevented, she said. This resolution supports efforts of the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] to prevent the disease and also encourages earlier implementation of country- of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef, she said. Turning attention changes made in the CS, she directed attention to page 2, lines 1-2, and she said the language in the [original resolution was changed to reflect the actions of the USDA]. Language found on page 1, line 16, through page 2, lines 1 and 2, of the original resolution read: WHEREAS the United States Department of Agriculture has taken steps to identify and destroy cattle that are from the same herd as the infected cow and other animals that may have been exposed to that cow; and MS. HAUKE explained that the USDA stopped searching for more cows from that herd, so the language was changed to read: WHEREAS the United States Department of Agriculture has taken steps to control bovine spongiform encephalopathy; and MS. HAUKE said another change made to the CS was the addition of "bovine spongiform encephalopathy" into the title. Number 2628 CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM, noting that she appreciated the changes, asked what other states are doing to implement regulations or anything pertaining to the same subject. MS. HAUKE explained that eight other states have legislation pending. One state has passed a resolution encouraging the opening of international beef markets. Four states already require the labeling of imported beef. The other eight states have various legislation that mostly have to do with tracking and identification, and there are a couple of bills that deal with meat processing and rendering regulations, she explained. There is a bill that would make it a crime not to test animal feed or not to ensure animal feed is safe, and there is an appropriation for an identification system. She said Iowa has a resolution to support the implementation of [COOL] labeling by 2004, and last year, it had a resolution to support postponing that, but after the discovery of the "mad cow" [in the state of Washington] "they changed their minds, I guess." Ms. Hauke remarked, "New York has had legislation since 2002, so that's not new." Number 2710 CO-CHAIR MASEK asked what Congress is doing with regard to this issue. She turned attention to page 2, lines 17-19, which read: FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature supports any efforts by the Alaska congressional delegation to implement country-of-origin labeling for meat products sooner than the current implementation date. MS. HAUKE said in the omnibus appropriations bill, the country of origin labeling, which was supposed to take effect in September 2004, was pushed back to September 2006. She said there were several reasons for that and there was also a lot of opposition. She said there has been talk about moving the implementation date back up. Ms. Hauke said a member of United States Senator Ted Stevens' staff said Senator Stevens was involved in discussions. Number 2764 REPRESENTATIVE HEINZE asked Ms. Hauke if the Canadian government is cooperating with the United States and to what extent. MS. HAUKE said the [the Canadian government] implemented the feed ban at the same time as the United States. She stated her belief that the [Canadian government] is being very cooperative with the United States, and said it had shut down some borders from [allowing in] beef shipments from the United States, even those going through. REPRESENTATIVE HEINZE pointed out that last spring, [Canadian customs] were stopping [vehicles] at the border for having items such as beef broth. She asked if [the resolution] will affect this in any way. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said she had heard that [Canadian customs] had even taken dog food. She said she didn't know the current situation at the border, but this [resolution] doesn't impact that except in terms of recognizing that issue. She said this [resolution] is "going more toward" the labeling of the animal product. Representative Kerttula, noting it is a good question, offered to check to see [what products are being stopped at the Canadian border]. Number 2764 REPRESENTATIVE GATTO, directing attention to page 2, lines 11 and 13, noted previous discussion in the [House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee] about the language "deserve", and he said he didn't remember [what outcome of that discussion]. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA clarified that there had been discussion in the previous committee about whether the word "deserve" should stay in the legislation. She said she didn't have any particular belief on it, but the previous committee really felt that it was something that Americans did deserve to know and it wanted to keep the stronger language in the resolution. REPRESENTATIVE GATTO noted that he was uneasy with the word, and said he didn't think it properly described what "we were after." He suggested [it read] "Americans have the right to know" or "Americans should be advised" because he said the word "deserve" is so compelling and so focused that "there isn't any way out of it." He remarked, "Everybody deserves to know, and I thought, I know that's not going to change the effect of the bill." He said he still likes the alternative terminology because he didn't think "deserve" was the right word. Representative Gatto said he felt he had to bring that up, and he was not going to object to it. Number 2933 REPRESENTATIVE GUTTENBERG said he thought what happened in the House Labor and Commerce Standing Committee is it couldn't find something that better fit what was felt or a substitute that actually met that. Addressing a previous question from Representative Heinze, he said he had dog food confiscated at the border and he knew of a staff member that had also had dog food confiscated at the border but the manufacturer compensated her for that. Number 2961 REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH noted that he liked the word "need." TAPE 04-8, SIDE B Number 2978 PHIL KASPARI, Agricultural Agent, Cooperative Extension Service (CES), testified. He said in general he agreed with the resolution but he was concerned by one item in particular. Mr. Kaspari directed attention to page 2, [line 4], the language "nonambulatory disabled cattle", and he said the USDA has a made the decision to ban those animals from slaughter. He said he was not an expert but he felt like that was a reactionary maneuver on the part of the USDA to calm the public's concerns regarding the safety of the meat being purchased. Mr. Kaspari suggested that the [USDA] was not necessarily using sound science. He said there are so many questions regarding BSE that scientists and researches have not yet been able to answer that he felt like things might have to be slowed down just a little bit to let sound science rule the decision making rather than politics. MR. KASPARI said the number of "downer animals" that do come into a slaughter generally have very obvious problems such as a broken leg or what is referred to as "hip lock," which occurs when the animal experiences problems during the calving process. Generally, he said producers look upon downer animals in an ethical manner, rather than wasting that commodity, producers would just as soon use it in an ethical manner and have the animal utilized. He said if the use of downer animals is banned, then a couple of things happen. For example, he said there is a certain amount of economic hardship imposed upon producers, and it also [causes] a certain amount of paranoia in producers. He said he knows that this whole issue is being discussed on a national basis and is evolving, and he thought user groups are talking to USDA representatives. MR. KASPARI said he hoped the committee would add a line that would mention supporting specific research on BSE animals, because scientists are currently allowed to research chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is basically the same disease that occurs in the deer family such as Elk. He mentioned [CWD occurrences in] white tailed deer in Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota, and he said wild herds are suffering with this disease. Number 2774 PAUL KNOPP, Dairy producer, began by saying he has some real concerns with this resolution. He said he wonders where these statements come from because they haven't all necessarily been proven by science. Mr. Knopp asked if the state veterinarian has been contacted about this statement. He said he really thought this should be taken further, which he thought is why the USDA has initiated a two-year moratorium, to look at it and get some scientific evidence "of where they're trying to go." REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA thanked both Mr. Kaspari and Mr. Knopp for testifying and she told them she was really open to talking more with them about their concerns after the meeting. She said the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was contacted, and that she had thought about introducing legislation to "require inspection" coming into Alaska but she felt satisfied after speaking to DEC that it wasn't really necessary, and she decided instead to go with the "resolution route." She said a lot of the information in the resolution is taken directly from the Federal Register, the USDA, and also from information and research that was put out at the time that BSE was found in the cow in [Washington], and in articles from The New York Times. She said Mr. Kaspari made a good point about a cow that breaks its leg, but the idea is when there is a nonambulatory disabled cow, which is defined in the Federal Register as dead, dying, disabled, and diseased. Representative Kerttula said Mr. Kaspari is talking about a cow that she didn't think any farmer "in their right mind" is going to put into a food strain. She said maybe that language could be a little more specific but generally she thought that was the idea. REPRESENTATIVE KERTTULA said she didn't disagree that care should be taken with regard to factual information, but all of the things in the resolution have been researched back to fact, which is the reason for the nonambulatory disease cattle phrase that was taken directly from the Federal Register. She said this is not [intended] to do something radical or that may hurt the industry and is really much more about protecting the industry and ensuring "we know what we're getting." Number 2585 CO-CHAIR DAHLSTROM moved to report CSHJR 35(L&C) out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHJR 35(L&C) was reported out of the House Resources Standing Committee. CO-CHAIR MASEK passed the gavel back to Co-Chair Dahlstrom.