America has spoken, but (surprise!) Congress isn't listening. A whopping 93 percent of Americans favor a law requiring foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled. But instead, lawmakers are marching forward with a bill that actually makes it illegal for states to pass labeling laws.
That's right: a bill that would create a voluntary labeling program at the federal level and also make it illegal for states to pass mandatory labeling laws passed the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday and is moving on to debate in the full House of Representatives—which could begin as soon as next week.
Representatives Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) were the two committee members who vocally opposed the bill. Both are calling for a national mandatory labeling standard for genetically modified foods.
Though HR. 1599 is cleverly named the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” opponents of the bill have re-named it the “Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.” And it is anything but “safe and accurate.” For one, if the bill becomes law, it will keep the labeling of GMOs voluntary and regulated at the federal level. According to analysis from the Environmental Working Group, language in the DARK Act makes it unlawful for a company to label a product “non-GMO” unless it undergoes a costly and time-consuming certification program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Big food companies have shown great resistance to labeling genetically engineered foods and have spent millions fighting initiatives to regulate the food biotech industry at the state and local level. It's ridiculous to assume that companies, en masse, will voluntarily subject themselves to a non-GMO certification program.
But the DARK Act goes even a step further than that. This bill would make it illegal for any state or county to pass legislation governing genetically engineered crops or foods, effectively nullifying state labeling laws in Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine, to name just a few.
“With this vote, committee members are clearly saying they are against states’ rights, against small farmers looking to protect their livelihoods, and against consumers who want to exercise their freedom to choose what they eat. This is unacceptable,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement Tuesday. “At a time when Americans—farmers and consumers alike—are seeking greater diversity and individual control in their food choices, this bill smashes those rights. Should the bill pass on the House floor, Americans across the country will be looking to the Senate to stand up for farmers and consumers.”
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast