It turns out that 2015 was an active year in the fight over GMO labeling. While the majority of consumers have made it clear they they want foods made with GMOs to carry labels, members of Congress introduced opposing bills about GMO labeling. One of those bills is much closer to becoming law than the other.
In February, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced for a second time. The act would require the FDA to "clearly label genetically engineered (GE) foods so that consumers can make informed choices about what they eat." There has been no significant movement on that proposed legislation since its introduction.
In March, the Safe And Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 was introduced. That bill has been dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK Act) by those who want GMO labeling. The act would make individual state labeling laws illegal and allow a voluntary labeling system.
The DARK Act was introduced in the House as H.R. 1599 and moved quickly. On July 23, 2015, it passed with a vote of 275-150. The next day it went to the Senate and sat there for a while. Then on Feb. 19, 2016, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas introduced a similar bill to H.R. 1599, putting the DARK Act one step closer to becoming law. That new bill will be discussed in the Senate this week.
Right-to-know advocates are speaking out against the Senate bill, which would also pre-empt any state efforts to make labeling mandatory, such as the one that is due to become law in July in Vermont. Colin O’Neil, agriculture policy director for the Environmental Working Group, issued this statement:
It's outrageous that some lawmakers in the Senate continue to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans. The version of the DARK Act that has been introduced by Chairman Roberts would rob Americans of their right to know what’s in their food and how it's grown. We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies like Campbell's will work with consumer groups to craft a non-judgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.
O'Neil is referring to Campbell Soup Company's surprising call last month for the federal government to make GMO food labeling mandatory. The company broke with other big food manufacturers and trade association groups that are pushing to make labeling voluntary or to hide the information behind QR codes or websites. Campbell's has said that if the federal government does not make labeling mandatory within a reasonable amount of time, it is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for GMOs. Groups that support a voluntary labeling approach include the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the International Dairy Foods Association, according to Food Business News.
Gary Hirschberg, chairman of Just Label It and Stonyfield Farm, also issued a statement.
Just Label It strongly urges the Senate to reject the version of DARK Act released tonight by Senator Roberts. Allowing food companies to make voluntary disclosures will simply perpetuate the status quo that has left consumers in the dark. Nine out of ten consumers — regardless of age, income or even party affiliation — want the right to know whether their food contains GMOs, and food leaders like Campbell's have shown that mandatory GMO labeling will not increase food prices. As the Senate Committee on Agriculture considers the DARK Act, we reiterate our support for a strong mandatory, national GMO labeling system that gives American consumers the same rights as consumers in 64 nations. American's have the right to know what's in their food and how it's grown.
Just Label It makes it easy to contact representatives in the Senate and let them know how you want them to vote on the DARK Act. From the organization's website, you can input your ZIP code to find your U.S. senators and sign a letter that will be sent to the senators from your state.