Alaska seafood close to organic label for wild-caught fish

ANCHORAGE -- Alaska seafood may soon have a new label: organic.

The Alaska seafood industry could be labeling wild-caught fish as organic for marketing purposes within the year, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office.

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Murkowski introduced the legislation April 3 to allow Alaska salmon and other wild-fish products to be labeled organic food.

The amendment was added to the Senate’s appropriations bill approved the same day.

"This amendment is a crucial component to our effort to provide new marketing opportunities for Alaska’s fishermen," Stevens said.

The legislation allows the secretary of agriculture to develop regulations to designate wild-caught products as organic. Currently, wild-caught fish can’t use this as a marketing tool.

"Wild salmon from the pristine waters of Alaska are as close to ’natural’ or ’organic’ as any product of any type anywhere," Murkowski said April 4. "Alaska salmon is as wholesome, if not more, than any other organic product on the market."

Wild fish couldn’t be considered organic because their food supply can’t be traced as organic.

Under the amendment, the secretary of agriculture must consult the National Organic Standards Board, processors, consumers and the secretary of commerce, before designating wild seafood as organic for labeling purposes.

Kristin Pugh, a spokeswoman for Murkowski, said states that are interested will be considered for the organic-labeling designation.

The Alaska seafood industry has been working to get wild fish recognized as organic for several years. Ray Riutta, the executive director for Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said it’s a great step for Alaska seafood.

"Anything that helps us differentiate our fish is good," Riutta said. "It’s ironic that foods that are not 100 percent organic can be labeled organic, but wild-caught seafood cannot."

The Senate version of the appropriations bill now will be considered in a joint House and Senate conference. If the amendment passes, the House and Senate will vote for final approval and then it will be submitted to President Bush.

04/13/2003 - 8:00pm