Vermont’s mandatory labeling requirements for genetically modified (GM) foods are set to go into effect July 1, 2016. As the date approaches, food companies invested in biotechnology race to pass a bill (called the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act by opponents) that would block mandatory labeling on a state and federal level and establish a voluntary national labeling standard for GM foods.
More broadly, the DARK Act:
- Prevents states from requiring GMO labeling
- Makes it more difficult for companies that want to label GMOs to do so
- Prohibits the FDA from requiring mandatory GMO labeling on a national level
- Takes the jurisdiction over GMOs food labeling and disclosure away from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)
- Makes the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) responsible for promoting the “safety” of biotechnology to consumers
- Blocks states from banning the growth of GMO plants or the use of GMO-associated pesticides
On Tuesday, the Senate Agricultural Committee approved the DARK Act, and it has now moved to the Senate floor to be voted on any day. If the bill passes in the Senate, it would only need the president’s signature to become a law.
Let’s back up for a sec
Americans’ interest in knowing what’s in their food continues to increase. And as this interest grows, the biotech food industry that utilizes GMOs and associated pesticides becomes more and more aggressive about keeping Americans in the dark.
In the US today, an estimated 70%-80% of processed foods contain GMOs. Since labeling is voluntary, consumers have no way of knowing what does and doesn’t contain GMOs unless they buy USDA organic foods. (With growing pressure from consumers, though, food companies are beginning to voluntarily label their products for GMOs; Campbell’s Soup announced earlier this year that they’re the first major corporation to do so.)
According to polls, over 90% of Americans want GMOs to be labeled. Over 30 states have introduced legislation requiring GMO labeling, and laws have been passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine (the laws in Connecticut and Maine will go into effect when similar laws in neighboring states do).
Feeling this growing labeling support from consumers, state legislators and individual companies, the biotech food industry has rushed to legally overturn Vermont’s labeling law before it goes into effect, in a battle to keep knowledge about GM food under wraps. Biotech giants like the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which represents more than 300 food and beverage companies (including Monsanto), have spent millions filing lawsuits and lobbying against mandatory GM labeling, resulting in part in the DARK Act.
Big food argues that labeling would significantly increase prices for consumers. This point leaves opponents scratching their heads, since labeling doesn’t require them to change their product in any way, and many food companies already change their packaging frequently. For more info, here’s an infographic put together by the Environmental Working Group explaining why labeling won’t increase food prices.
GMOs have been associated with increased allergies, toxicity, infertility, immune system issues, cancer and impaired nutritional value. But the heart of this debate isn’t about the negative effects of GMOs. It’s about your right to access knowledge about what’s in your food, and about making your own choices about what you want to eat, rather than having those choices made for you by a biotech giant with its focus on profit margins.
On the other hand, you really have to ask yourself, if GMOs are so “safe” as claimed by big food, why all of this multi million dollar effort to keep GMO knowledge away from consumers? This isn’t about banning GMO products, it’s simply about labeling them truthfully.
It’s an unfortunate thing that we can’t trust the government to protect the public’s interests, that corporations can so unabashedly and blatantly have so much power over what goes into law. If this quietly passes in the Senate, we’ve lost the fight over GMO labeling and handed a lot more power over to big food. And we’ll be further setting ourselves apart from 64 other countries that require labeling, including the EU, Australia, Russia, China and Japan.
What you can do to fight back
- Easily email your senator, the FDA or big food – Simply go to http://www.justlabelit.org/ and scroll down to send an (automatically generated, but editable) email
- Contact senators via phone – Call (202) 224-3121
For more information: