Update: On July 23, H.R. 1599 passed the House with a vote of 275-150. The bill moves on to the Senate, though a a date for that vote has not been set.
It's been about four months since the introduction of the bill that's become known as the DARK Act, and it's an important moment for those interested in their right to know if foods include genetically engineered ingredients or GMOs. Originally introduced in 2014 as H.R. 4432 as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, it didn't go anywhere at first. It was reintroduced in March as H.R. 1599 with the same name, but now it's moving quickly.
While the bill's name makes it sound like something we should all support, the bill serves to put an end to efforts to label GMOs. It would, according to Center for Food Safety, severely restrict the authority of states and the FDA when it comes to requiring labeling including:
- Prevent states from adopting their own GE labeling laws.
- Prevent state or county laws regulating GE crops
- Prevent the Food and Drug Administration from requiring companies to label GE ingredients and instead continue a failed 14-year “voluntary” labeling policy.
Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed H.R. 1599 and sent it to the House floor. It could come up for a vote at any time. If it passes in the House, it will move on the U.S. Senate, and if passed, to President Obama's desk. The repercussions of it becoming law are serious, especially if the bill takes away the authority of the FDA to require labeling, even if genetically modified foods are shown to be harmful down the line.
Of course proponents of the bill, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association that praised the committee for sending the bill on the House, have their reasons for wanting H.R. 1599 signed into law. In a statement on the GMA website, Pamela G. Bailey, GMA president and CEO, said the "legislation will ensure that Americans have accurate, consistent information about their food rather than a 50 state patchwork of labeling laws that will only prove costly and confusing for consumers, farmers and food manufacturers.”
Bailey also said the bill will put a "science-based framework in place that provides consumers across the country with uniform food labeling standards.”
However, if this law is passed, there's a good chance that Americans will not have consistent information or uniform labeling standards. They will have very little information about GMOs in their food. The bill allows for voluntary labeling of GMOs by food manufacturers, the same voluntary labeling that has existed for the past 14 years. According to the Environmental Working Group, none of the manufacturers that use GMOs in their foods label them under the voluntary guidelines. Keeping the voluntary labeling option in this bill won't change that.
While some studies have shown that eating GMOs are safe, there are 64 other countries that require the labeling of GMO foods. Labeling of those foods, usually in the ingredients list, has had "little effect on consumer behavior." The food manufacturers that are spending millions of dollars to fight GMO labeling already have to label their foods in other countries.
So the big question is, if these companies already label in other countries and it doesn't make much of a difference in consumer behavior, why are they so against labeling in the United States?
This has nothing to do with banning GMOs. It has everything to do with our right to know what's in our food, and over 90 percent of Americans say they want that right. Now all Americans are in danger of losing the right to have foods labeled, even by the FDA in the future if the FDA finds evidence the ingredients can cause harm.
A bill that would take away state's rights and the FDA's authority is something Americans should be concerned about, especially when corporations are spending millions to do it.
If you're concerned about this bill, contact your representatives and tell them you want them to oppose H.R. 1599. The Center for Food Safety makes it easy to add your name to a letter Congress that will be sent to your specific representatives. The letter also urges representatives to support the Boxer-DeFazio bill to label GE food (H.R. 913/ S. 511, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act).
Related on MNN:
- What will the USDA's new label to do mandatory GMO labeling efforts?
- Why the companies dropping GMO ingredients are fighting against GMO labeling
- USDA approves GMO labeling that don't brown