One of the greatest byproducts of the ongoing “good food” movement is the way the conversation has brought out a consumer curiosity and concern about how food gets to our tables.
It’s safe to say that more Americans than ever in recent history want to peel back the layers of the industrial food system to learn about what’s being planted, how it’s being altered from its natural state, which chemicals are sprayed where, and human justice questions about the livelihoods of small farmers and worker conditions up and down the food chain.
Chief among the culinary concerns for many around the world are foods that contain ingredients that have been genetically modified. Even Pope Francis took aim at GMOs this week in the leaked encyclical on the environment, saying they present “significant problems that should not be minimized,” calling for more “independent and interdisciplinary research” on their health impacts.
For background, genetically modified organisms (or GMOs) are plants that have been altered using biotechnology to carry genes that express a desired trait, such as herbicide resistance. For decades, scientists have manipulated seeds from their natural state, and a handful of powerful agribusiness companies control both the genetic modification of crops and the chemicals these crops are designed to resist.
Despite few reputable studies showing that GE foods pose no risk to humans who consume them, Americans today have little way of knowing whether their food is genetically engineered. Some in Congress are working tirelessly to keep it that way.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans favor a law requiring GE foods to be labeled, but a bill that has been floating around the House of Representatives would create a voluntary labeling program at the federal level, but also make it illegal for states to pass mandatory labeling laws. Most food safety and consumer advocates believe a mandatory labeling law is the only solution, as Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine have passed in recent years.
But the most recent version of the federal bill goes even further by preventing any future labeling laws and undoing GE crop regulations that have existed in numerous counties across the nation for decades. The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), is being vigorously opposed by consumer advocacy and food safety groups around the country.
“The Monsanto Protection Act is back, and it’s even worse than before,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “This bill would strip away a state or local government’s basic rights of local control, and hands the biotech industry everything it wants on a silver platter. No member of Congress that cares about the rights and concerns of his or her constituents should support this bill.”
The bill, which will be discussed at a House hearing this Thursday, is cleverly titled the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” but opponents call it the “Denying Americans the Right to Know”—or DARK—Act.
One of the most disturbing features of the newly revised bill is the prohibition of local counties and states from making any laws governing the growing or labeling of GE foods. The Just Label It campaign called the current, voluntary labeling policy “failed,” pointing out that food companies support the status quo because of their unwillingness to label foods containing GMOs. The Environmental Working Group went as far as to compare Pompeo, the DARK Act’s lead sponsor, to Darth Vader.
“Apparently, Pompeo is among the 7 percent of Americans who tell pollsters they don’t want to know what they’re eating,” Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of governmental affairs, wrote last year.
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