You are in a grocery store or restaurant. You are about to buy seafood.

Wait, is that fresh seafood from the Alabama Gulf Coast? Or is it imported from distant seas?

That dilemma is the point of a bill announced by State Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger's Island). He just happens to represent most of Alabama's seafood industry in south Mobile County, the remainder mainly in Baldwin County.

Brown has pre-filed legislation to support Alabama's commercial seafood industry by requiring restaurants and grocery stores to disclose the country of origin for their seafood products.

"The seafood industry is essential to the economy throughout Alabama's Gulf Coast region, and with foreign-caught products flooding the U.S. market, we must take every step to both support it and protect it," Brown said in a release Monday.

He added, "By requiring disclosure of the country of origin for seafood, we can encourage the use of products caught in Alabama while ensuring that consumers are better informed about the food they consume."

Under current state law, seafood suppliers must inform grocery stores and restaurants about the country of origin of their products. Still, there is no mandate for those food service establishments to pass along the information to consumers and customers. Brown's bill would require grocery stores to clearly provide the country of origin on seafood labels or the bins where the products are displayed for sale.

Restaurants would be required to disclose the country of origin on the menu listing for seafood dishes they sell or on conspicuous signage visible to diners and patrons.

Advertisements for seafood products and dishes sold by food service establishments must also include the country of origin information.

The same methods must be used to disclose if fish or shrimp products are farm-raised or caught in the wild. The State Health Officer would be assigned enforcement authority under the bill's provisions and could assign civil penalties, including monetary fines, to ensure compliance.

Brown told 1819 News Monday that the federal government has contributed to the problem of unfair foreign competition by doing two things at once. One, subsidizing the foreign seafood industry through the World Bank. He mentioned India, Ecuador and Vietnam as recipients. Two, allowing cheap importation of foreign seafood that does not meet U.S. health standards.

Brown said there is a possibility of some pushback against the bill from restaurant associations, but he says restaurant operators want to "do the right thing."  

The Alabama Restaurant Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at [email protected].

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