by Maddie Monty, NOFA Vermont
On July 23rd, the House of Representatives passed bill H.R. 1599 by a margin of 275 to 150. This bill, backed primarily by House Republicans, has been given two names. Cleverly branded by its sponsors as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, the bill has instead become widely known to the national Food Movement as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.
Despite its benevolent title, farmer and consumer groups have seen the DARK Act for what it is: a direct attack on mandatory GMO labeling laws passed by Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine in recent years and an effort to undermine consumers’ demand for information about the food they eat.
While much of the House testimony in favor of the Act referenced the need for a national labeling standard, the DARK Act would in fact do just the opposite. By prohibiting FDA from ever requiring the labeling of GMO foods, the Act would codify the current federal policy of voluntary labeling: a policy that has been in place for 14 years, during which time not one food manufacturer has ever chosen to label their products as containing GMOs.
If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the DARK Act would not only prohibit FDA from requiring GMO labeling, it would also nullify Vermont’s labeling law slated to go into effect in July 2016. The bill would allow the use of misleading “natural” claims on GMO products to continue, while limiting the ability of states and localities to regulate GMOs in ways that safeguard farmers and consumers.
One thing proponents of the DARK Act can’t deny is widespread citizen support for mandatory GMO labeling. In recent years, a multitude of national polls (conducted by ABC News, Consumer Reports, the Washington Post, Reuters/NPR, the New York Times, and others) have repeatedly found that over 90% of Americans want GMO foods to be labeled.
While biotechnology companies and junk food manufacturers have long seen GMO labels as a skull and crossbones, a UVM study recently found that GMO labels do not serve as a warning label to consumers. Under Vermont’s labeling law, manufacturers will simply be required to disclose on the package and in plain language whether their product was made with genetic engineering. In fact, labeling GMOs is something these same companies are already doing in 64 other countries around the world, which begs the question: why not here?
Unfortunately, the list of corporations and interest groups backing the DARK Act is a lengthy and well-funded one. It includes companies like ConAgra Foods, Dow AgroSciences, PepsiCo and Monsanto. Political contribution reports clearly show that the deep pockets of Big Food were brought to bear in passing H.R. 1599. House members who voted in favor of the DARK Act received an average of $70,426 per vote from interest groups and industry, with some individual members receiving as much as $500,000 from the bill’s supporters.
The bill will now head to the Senate for consideration following the August recess. While the DARK Act is expected to receive substantially less support in the Senate as compared to the House, only time will tell whether Big Food can successfully force-feed this legislation to our Congress and our citizens. While the Obama administration has been largely silent on the issue up to this point, one thing is certain: if the DARK Act ever makes it to the President’s desk, he is sure to get an earful.
National GMO Labeling Polls: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/us-polls-on-ge-food-labeling
Contributions to House members supporting/opposing HR 1599: http://maplight.org/us-congress/bill/114-hr-1599/7104271/contributions-by-vote.table
Free Press article on UVM study: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2015/07/28/uvm-study-gmo-labeling-may-matter/30801741/