Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/05/2004 03:35 PM RES

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
                                                                                                                                
        SB 282-RESTAURANTS ETC DISCLOSE WILD/FARMED FISH                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR SCOTT  OGAN called the Senate  Resources Standing Committee                                                             
meeting  to  order at  3:35  p.m.  Present were  Senators  Thomas                                                               
Wagoner, Ben  Stevens, Kim  Elton and  Chair Scott  Ogan. Senator                                                               
Georgianna Lincoln arrived  at 3:36. The first  order of business                                                               
to come before the committee was SB 282.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  KIM  ELTON, sponsor,  said  that  currently finfish  and                                                               
farmed  salmon are  to  be  identified on  the  label for  retail                                                               
businesses. SB  282 extends  that same  notion to  restaurants by                                                               
requiring their  menus to state whether  fish it is selling  in a                                                               
prepared  food  product   is  wild  fish  or   farmed  fish.  The                                                               
definition  of   retail  food   establishments  does   not  cover                                                               
restaurants on cruise ships or  bunkhouses at remote construction                                                               
sites,  but  does include  restaurants  that  serve food  to  the                                                               
general  public and  carts that  sell food  on the  sidewalks and                                                               
streets.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  ELTON explained  that page  4, line  14, says  that wild                                                               
fish "is  harvested from a river  or an ocean" and  Senator Dyson                                                               
had suggested  inserting "lake".  He noted  that the  fiscal note                                                               
was a  bit of  a surprise to  him, but provides  for a  new staff                                                               
person at the Department of  Environmental Conservation (DEC) for                                                               
restaurant label enforcement. He noted:                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
     When  we   passed  the   bill  applying   the  labeling                                                                    
     requirements at  the retail level, there  was no fiscal                                                                    
     note. The  difference between that  bill and  this bill                                                                    
     is the  word "may"  and "shall".  I'm working  with the                                                                    
     department to try  and figure out a way that  we end up                                                                    
     with  the  same fiscal  note  we  got when  the  retail                                                                    
     labeling law  was passed.  I would  also note  that the                                                                    
     fiscal note does provide for  an additional position at                                                                    
     DEC and informally through staff  I have been told that                                                                    
     it  doesn't take  a full  position even  though a  full                                                                    
     position  is noted  in  the fiscal  note.  So, I  don't                                                                    
     think it's a big problem, Mr. Chair.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR OGAN  said he  has a  philosophical problem  with mandating                                                               
that  businesses reprint  menus with  correct labeling  and asked                                                               
Senator Elton if he had any  input from the public about printing                                                               
new menus.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  ELTON replied  that he  has not  heard from  the private                                                               
sector on how  this would impact their business.  He didn't think                                                               
it would  be a problem, because  farmed fish that is  sold at the                                                               
restaurant level  is labeled as fresh  and is on the  daily menu,                                                               
not the  standard menu.  He said  this isn't  a health  bill, but                                                               
simply a  consumer awareness bill  that fits in with  the country                                                               
of origin labeling being discussed at the federal level.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS.  KRISTIN RYAN,  Director, Division  of Environmental  Health,                                                               
DEC,  said  that  complaint   investigation  would  increase  the                                                               
division's  workload and  she is  working with  Senator Elton  to                                                               
change  that language.  She  anticipates  getting frequent  calls                                                               
from  Alaskans   who  are   concerned  that   restaurants  aren't                                                               
following the rules.  The only other issue she has  with the bill                                                               
is  the definition  of  a food  service  establishment, which  is                                                               
different in SB 282 than in current regulation.                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WAGONER  asked if  DEC could  include with  their regular                                                               
restaurant inspections  checking menus to make  sure the labeling                                                               
is correct to avoid hiring another person to do that.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
MS.  RYAN retorted  that her  division does  perform inspections,                                                               
but  not  at the  frequency  that  is  necessary to  insure  food                                                               
safety.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  OGAN asked  why current  inspections  couldn't verify  the                                                               
source  of the  fish.  "It  would take  another  two minutes  per                                                               
visit."                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS. RYAN  replied that  the inspectors could  and would  do that,                                                               
but  there  would  be  many  more  calls  from  the  public  than                                                               
scheduled  inspections  during  which the  information  would  be                                                               
checked.  She  added that  another  bill,  HB  378, would  add  a                                                               
protection  attorney  to  Chapter  17  to  enforce  labeling  and                                                               
misbranding problems that are not health safety issues.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS. ELISE  HSIEH, Department  of Law (DOL),  said the  country of                                                               
origin  labeling [7  USC 16.38(a)(3)]  could possibly  preempt SB                                                               
282 if  it passed because it  says that country of  origin notice                                                               
must also  include whether  fish is  wild or  farmed. Legislation                                                               
was already passed  with the USDA creating  regulations that must                                                               
be  in  place  by  September  30,  2004.  The  bill  specifically                                                               
excludes  restaurants,  which  leaves  the  question  of  whether                                                               
Congress  intentionally   made  a  policy  decision   to  prevent                                                               
restaurants  from   constantly  having  to  change   their  menus                                                               
depending on the source of their  fish, which changes from day to                                                               
day. The feds  could argue that consumer interest  in the product                                                               
is  not  enough to  overcome  hindrance  of interstate  commerce.                                                               
These  are  common  arguments  made  in  Congress  for  the  RBSP                                                               
labeling for  milk and different  grades of apples,  etc. Current                                                               
law does  not require labeling of  fish that is wild,  but merely                                                               
says "may" be labeled for wholesale and retail business.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR ELTON said:                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
     I would love it if we  were preempted by the feds - for                                                                    
     two reasons.  One is  we don't need  to have  the state                                                                    
     enforce  it.  So  there  is   no  state  cost.  But  my                                                                    
     understanding  is that  the federal  country of  origin                                                                    
     labeling  does  exempt  restaurants.... If  their  regs                                                                    
     cover this, that's great.... But  I think we need to do                                                                    
     it now.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
He said he  would continue to work  with DEC on use  of the words                                                               
"may", which he thinks is essentially toothless, and "shall".                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. HSIEH  agreed with  his position  and informed  the committee                                                               
that AS 17.20 deals with that issue.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR ELTON moved, on page 4,  line 14, to add ", lake,". There                                                               
were no objections and it was so ordered.                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR WAGONER wanted  to zero out the fiscal note  and move the                                                               
bill.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR ELTON assured  committee members that he  would work with                                                               
DEC  on the  inspection issue  no  matter what  happens with  the                                                               
fiscal note.                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  WAGONER moved  CSSB 282(RES)  with attached  fiscal note                                                               
and individual  recommendations. There were no  objections and it                                                               
was so ordered.                                                                                                                 

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