My dog and I are having a little party in my office right now. Word just came in that the Senate defeated the DARK Act today, choosing to side with consumers and their right to know if genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are in their food.
It was just about a year ago that Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) re-introduced a bill in the House creatively and misleadingly titled the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Opponents of the bill quickly dubbed it the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act because it called for banning states from creating their own GMO labeling laws and banning the FDA from creating a federal mandatory labeling law. Instead, the bill called for leaving in place a 14-year-old voluntary labeling system that no major food manufacturer has used.
The bill moved through the House of Representatives quickly and passed on July 2015. Just last month, the Senate started hearings on the bill. It went up for a vote this morning, and according to releases by both Just Label It and the Environmental Working Group, the Senate failed to earn the votes necessary to pass it.
The defeat of the DARK Act is not the end of the GMO labeling debate. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It and Stonyfield Farm, said in a statement that he believes Washington officials will keep working until they find a solution that benefits consumers and the food industry.
Now that the DARK Act been rejected by the Senate, I am optimistic that Congress can come together to find a real solution for consumers that is mandatory, national and gives consumers the information they want about the food they are eating. Any solution has to work for both consumers and for industry.
Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs of the Environmental Working Group, released a similar statement:
Consumers have made their voices heard to their elected representatives in the Senate and they said clearly, “We want the right to know more about our food.” We are pleased that the Senate made the right decision to stop the DARK Act, and we remain hopeful that Congressional leaders can craft a national mandatory compromise that works for consumers and the food industry. We applaud Senators Debbie Stabenow, Jeff Merkley, Jon Tester, Barbara Boxer and Pat Leahy for their efforts to defeat the DARK Act.
While Washington is regrouping on this issue, I expect the next news about GMO labeling to come out of Vermont. Because this act didn't pass, Vermont is one step closer to enacting its mandatory labeling law, which is set to go into effect in July. The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and other industry groups have entered a legal battle with Vermont to stop the law from being enacted, but they have not yet succeeded.