U.S. Congress backs organic wild fish label; Stevens adds rider to war spending bill

Posted: Wednesday, April 16, 2003

ANCHORAGE - Congress has approved a provision to allow wild seafood to be labeled as organic.

Sen. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, added the rider to the $79 billion war spending bill approved last week. It directs the agriculture secretary to allow wild seafood to be certified and labeled as organic.

Alaska fishing interests have tried for years to get the label applied to the state's seafood harvest, salmon in particular. They hope sales of Alaska salmon and prices paid to fishermen will improve.

"Alaska salmon is as wholesome, if not more, than any other organic product on the market," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who backed the amendment, said in a written statement.

The organic label has been an upstream battle. Some advocates of stringent organic standards say wild fish shouldn't qualify because no one controls - or knows - what environments they visit as they roam the ocean.

Boosters of Alaska salmon say wild fish are inherently natural and pristine.

In an especially harsh blow, an advisory panel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded in 2001 that wild seafood shouldn't qualify as organic, but farmed fish might. Farmed fish have overtaken wild seafood in the marketplace.

The wild seafood provision says the secretary should devise rules for the organic fish label, after consulting with the National Organic Standards Board and others.

The measure was one of an array of Senate add-ons to the war-spending bill.

William Bailey, president of Copper River Seafoods in Cordova, said the label could help sales.

"There's a real distinct market for it with consumers and with some restaurants," he said. "There are a lot of people that will only eat organic."

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