Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/05/2004 03:35 PM RES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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.