Vol. 8, No. 7
February 17-23, 2000
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D’Amato’s Crab-Labeling Plan Turns Powerful Foes Crabby

Judging by his heavyweight opponents, Del. Richard D’Amato is on to something with his legislation to slow the deception accompanying the import of foreign crab meat.

D’Amato, D-Annapolis, wants labels on food packaging to identify the source of crab meat from foreign lands. Asian products from crabs that bear only slight resemblance to our Atlantic blues have flooded Maryland restaurants and groceries in recent years, muscling Chesapeake Bay-harvested crabs off the shelves.

In truth, crabs are like a lot of businesses these days: The companies with the lowest labor costs enjoy the most success. If you can pay crab-pickers in developing countries sweat-shop wages, you can undermine the competition and score profits.

You can accept cheap imports and perhaps save a few dimes, paying little attention to what is happening at the retail level of our globalized economy. Or you can think about what you buy and understand that ultimately, your decision may be putting your neighbor out of business before he or she knows it.

Just since the mid-1990s, the share of American-harvested crab meat consumed in the United States has dropped by half, to roughly one-quarter.

That’s how fast things occur.

To add insult, imports trick all but the most discerning among us with labels that sell the imports under a “Chesapeake Bay” brand and with labels that proclaim it “Maryland-style.”

D’Amato’s crab labeling legislation would require crab products foreign and domestic to carry labels telling people where the meat comes from.

Big-name opponents — among them Phillips Foods Inc. of Baltimore; Phillips buddy William Donald Schaefer, the former governor; and omnipresent lobbyist Bruce Bereano — turned out at a General Assembly committee hearing last week to trash an early version of D’Amato’s proposal, which would have required labeling foreign crab’s country of origin. The Attorney General’s office noted that this requirement might be unconstitutional and violate NAFTA. So the state of Maryland opposed it.

Maryland watermen and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation support D’Amato’s efforts. So do we. We encourage him to keep working at it until he finds a formula that passes Constitutional muster.

We may not be able to stop globalization and the watering down of our culture. But we ought to at least have truthful, straightforward information about the food we eat to make our choices.

When Marylanders eat crab meat, we have the right to be picky.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly