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By Rebecca Gourley
WNPA Olympia News Service 

HED: Labeling of genetically modified food back after failure of I-522

 


HED: Labeling of genetically modified food back after failure of I-522

Rebecca Gourley

WNPA Olympia News Service

OLYMPIA ━ The push to label genetically modified organisms – termed GMOs – is back on the table in Olympia.

But the focus is on genetically engineered, or transgenic, fish. A transgenic animal has had one animal’s DNA spliced with another to create an animal with new characteristics.

House Bill 2143 proposes to ensure that consumers will know exactly what kind of fish they are purchasing at the supermarket – whether it’s farm-raised, wild-caught or “genetically engineered.”

Before a Jan. 17 hearing on the bill in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, bill sponsor Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said he plans to introduce two amendments that would more clearly define several terms in the proposed legislation.

Under the amendments, the bill’s definition of genetically engineered would be changed to “transgenic” and it would target only fish raised in natural freshwater, such as lakes and streams, rather than enclosed tanks. The changes would address two concerns raised at the hearing by John Dentler of Troutlodge, the oldest aquaculture company in Washington.

Troutlodge, headquartered in Bonney Lake, Pierce County, produces triploid trout eggs. With three sets of chromosomes instead of two, the fish are sterile.

Dentler says the bill is vague in its definitions and it doesn’t address the triploid fish. Dentler also said that the bill’s definition of “state waters” is not defined well enough and may encompass fish research performed by the University of Washington and Washington State University.

Prior to the hearing, Condotta recognized these concerns and said they would be addressed in the coming amendments. However, the bill would still prohibit the production of transgenic fish in freshwater net pens.

One concern the bill aims to address is the risk of transgenic fish escaping into native-fish habitats. Condotta said he questions the sterility of the transgenic fish and doesn’t want to take the chance of them escaping and possibly crossbreeding with other salmon.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve genetically engineered fish for human consumption, but some in the industry expect that policy to change soon.

AquaBounty Technologies, based in Massachusetts, is producing its genetically engineered fish, AquAdvantage Salmon, at a facility in Canada because Environment Canada, that country’s government agency on everything related to the environment, said they pose no risk to the environment. This decision was recently challenged by Ecology Action Centre and Living Oceans Society, two non-profit activist groups in Canada. The lawsuit says Environment Canada acted “unlawfully” when they approved AquaBounty’s product.

AquaBounty is seeking FDA approval to raise transgenic salmon in the United States for human consumption.

The fish would all be sterile females and would be produced in landlocked freshwater tanks, FDA spokesperson Theresa Eisenman said.

AquaBounty's method of altering the DNA of the Atlantic salmon is to take a growth gene from the Chinook salmon and "splice" it with the DNA of the Atlantic salmon This creates a fish that reaches maturity much faster than its natural counterparts, and therefore can be sold for food more quickly.

AquaBounty’s website says its fish should not be labeled "genetically engineered" because "the nutritional and biological composition of AquAdvantage salmon is identical to Atlantic salmon.”

The FDA agrees.

"In September 2010…based on the data and information received to date, food from AquAdvantage salmon appears to be as safe to eat as farmed, conventionally bred Atlantic salmon," Eisenman said.

Condotta disagrees.

"This is not similar,” he said. “This is a different product entirely and it should require its own label."

Some large retailers such as Target, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have stated they won't sell the transgenic fish even if the FDA approves it.

Washington’s existing fish-farming industry also has concerns, Condotta said.

"People might reject farmed fish not knowing if they are buying GMO," he said.

However, at the hearing on Friday, Alan Cook of Icicle Seafoods said he was opposed to the bill, even though they have no plans to rear transgenic fish.

“It’s already prohibited according to state regulations,” he said. “This law is not required.”

The production of transgenic fish is already banned in Washington's marine waters, said John Kerwin, fish health program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Kerwin said that this bill would extend WAC 220-76-100 to include freshwater.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, has introduced an identical bill, Senate Bill 6184. She also testified at the hearing Friday.

“It’s vital that we send the message to the federal government that we do not want this ‘new animal drug’ turned loose in our market,” Chase said.

The FDA has classified genetically modified animals as a “new animal drug.” Some in the industry say this categorization is its own problem.

“"They [the FDA] doesn't have the framework for genetically engineered animals," said Trudy Bialic, spokesperson for PCC Natural Markets in Seattle. "This is a gross concern," she continued. "The criteria for the assessment is less strict than for food additives."

Bialic was also a strong supporter for Initiative 522, the GMO Initiative, but believes this more narrow approach will be a better fit for Washington.

Condotta said he hopes consumers will be more supportive of this bill because it focuses on fish, rather than all GMOs. Last year, Washington voters rejected I-522, 49 to 51 percent.

HED: Discover Pass revenue continues to grow

KICKER: Increase still not enough to make up for budget cuts

PHOTO:

Photo by Rebecca Gourley

By Rebecca Gourley

WNPA Olympia News Service

OLYMPIA — Discover Pass revenue is going up, but not fast enough. With the general fund money gap, it’s hard to keep parks open. But they are managing by trying to promote the pass program and reduce staff.

Three years after Washington’s Discover Pass program was implemented, revenue from sales of the pass continues to grow.

The pass, which is a user fee for vehicle entry into public lands such as state parks and natural resource lands, brought in an average of $13 million a year during its first two years. But during the fiscal year ending in June 2013, the pass program brought in $16.8 million – an increase of about 29 percent.

Despite the growth in revenue, the pass is still not bringing in enough money to make up for budget cuts that have occurred over the past few years, said Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter. And the program is still falling short of the agency’s original revenue projections of $27 million per year.

The pass program was implemented in 2011 after state lawmakers slashed the budget for state parks.

"It is the thing that helped keep the parks open," said Painter.

If the trend continues, pass revenue in its fourth year should be even stronger. But the parks system has a long way to go to make up for the over 50 percent in cuts to its budget from the general fund during the height of the state’s budget crisis as the economy faltered in 2008.

The percentage of State Parks’ budget that was from the state’s general fund dropped from over 60 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2008. For the 2011-2013 biennium it was at 12 percent. That number continues to drop and is now at about 7 percent. Overall, State Parks has seen a $26 million shortfall since 2009.

In his 2014 proposed supplemental budget, Gov. Jay Inslee suggested a 2.3 percent overall increase to the Parks’ budget, or $2.9 million. But there’s still a notable gap.

The significant decrease has put maintenance and operations of many parks at risk, Painter said. They have reduced staff and made a lot of positions seasonal instead of year-round.

"It's not sustainable, long term," she said.

The commission is looking for ways to increase revenue, such as increasing the number of places where someone can purchase a Discover Pass.

Motorists can now purchase a Discover Pass at the same time that they renew their tabs at the Department of Licensing (or online), and at pay stations in various parks where people can use credit and debit cards.

Discover Passes can be purchased as an annual or daily pass. With all fees included, annual passes are $35 and daily passes come out to $11.50. They are required for all vehicles in all state parks. But they are not required for people entering the park on foot.

Also, Park Manager Tom Pew at Millersylvania State Park near Olympia stated that annual passes start from the date of purchase, not from January to December.

Some park users think that the $30 fee is more than reasonable.

“I’d pay more if I had to,” said Otto McElbain, a disabled veteran who has been homeless since last August. He camps in Washington state parks with his dog, “Big Boy” frequently. He has two passes, the Discover Pass and a five-year disability pass that gives him 50 percent off the camping fees.

Eighty-four percent of the revenue generated by Discover Pass sales goes to State Parks. The Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources split the remaining 16 percent.

There are several pieces of proposed legislation this year that aim to make changes to the Discover Pass program.

Some bills include discounts and reduced pass prices for disabled veterans and people who buy other recreational permits. One bill would waive the fine for not having a Discover Pass visible on a vehicle if that person can show they had one at the time the citation was given.

Currently, the fine for not having a Discover Pass visible on a vehicle in a state park is $99. Under current state law, a person who is cited but can prove within 15 days that they do have a current Discover Pass would pay a reduced fine of $59.

 

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