Young Votes Yes, Meant No, on Bill Gutting GMO Labeling Laws

The U.S. House today passed a bill to allow “voluntary” labeling of food that contains genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Alaska Congressman Don Young voted for the bill, which he says he did by mistake.

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The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed by the president, would gut state labeling laws, including Alaska’s 10-year-old requirement that any genetically modified salmon sold in the state carry a disclosure to consumers. The legislation has become an online flashpoint, pitting the food industry against sustainable food activists and consumer groups.

Michelle Wilson Nordhoff, an Anchorage mom and natural-food shopper, says she wrote Young recently and asked him to vote against the anti-labeling bill. She got a letter back, dated Monday.

“In the letter that he wrote to me, he said ‘Rest assured that I will oppose this legislation should it come to the House floor for a vote,'” she recounted, reading from the letter.

Wilson Nordhoff says she noticed the bill was on the floor today, so she called Young’s office to find out how he voted. She says she was stunned when she got a voicemail message telling her the congressman voted for the bill. Wilson Nordhoff says the vote is bad for Alaska’s efforts to market its wild salmon.

“I think once people find out that Rep. Young went ahead and supported this, Alaskans are going to be shocked,” she said. “I mean this is definitely a huge issue for our economy.”

Young’s spokesman, Matt Shuckerow, says it was simply a mistake: Congressman Young pushed the ‘yes’ button when he meant to push the ‘no’ button.

“Unfortuantely, by the time he realized his mistake, the voted had closed and he was unable to change his vote to no,” Shuckerow said. The bill passed by a wide margin.

Shuckerow says Young has long supported GMO labeling, particularly for salmon, and after the vote, he submitted a statement for the Congressional Record to clarify his position. Just yesterday, Young wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter in favor of GMO labeling in which he urged the entire House to vote against the bill that he, in the end, voted for.

Wilson Nordhoff is skeptical that Young’s “yes” vote was just a mistake.

“I just think most of these leaders now in Congress just vote according to what corporations want them to vote for,” she said. “I don’t think they’re listening to the people. Maybe not even to fishing industries in the state anymore.”

Shuckerow says Young has sponsored two bills in the House that show his true position. One would ban genetically modified salmon and the other would require product labeling for GMO fish. Young has also explained his accidental vote in a Facebook posting. 



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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at