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Going DARK Over GMOs

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West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC. Image by Ron Cogswell and used under a Creative Commons license.
With Recent Passage In The U.S. House, A Bill That Will Require Labeling Is Catching Flak From Some Quarters Due To Not Requiring Mandatory Labeling For Genetically Modified Organisms

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

July 27, 2015 — As states around the country decide whether or not to mandate the labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms, a bill is passing through Congress may render the whole situation moot.

With all due respect to William Shakespeare, the issue is, “To label, or not to label — that is the question.”

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed H.R. 1599, also known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labelling Act of 2015. The bill passed with a 275-150 vote. While H.R. 1599 benefited from vast Republican support (230 “aye” votes), it also received support from 45 Democrats.

Those opposing the bill have a different name for H.R. 1599, calling it the DARK Act. Or, the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

The bill seeks to clarify at a federal level the labelling requirements for foods containing genetically modified organisms and would supercede any state laws if passed. It would require developers to submit premarket notifications to the Food and Drug Administration showing that the GMO food is safe and comparable to its non-GMO counterparts.

It would also allow the FDA to require specific labelling if the agency determines there is a significant difference between the GMO product and its non-GMO counterpart.

H.R. 1599 would also legislate the specific instances in which the terms “non-GMO” and “natural” can be used on food labels.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) sponsored the bill.

Advocates of the bill praise it as a clear way to inform consumers about what is in the products they eat and avoid the confusion that could be caused by the passage of multiple different labelling laws in states across the country.

“A federal approach to food labeling remains the only way to ensure that Americans everywhere can access accurate information about the food they purchase,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association in a press release.  “H.R. 1599 is fact-based, common sense legislation that will provide the kind of clarity and consistency in the marketplace for food labels that American consumers deserve.”

However, opponents of the bill claim it does not go far enough, because it does not require the mandatory labelling of all genetically modified foods. Rather, it would allow manufacturers to label GMO foods on a voluntary basis if not specifically designated by the FDA. Detractors see it as a way for major food manufacturers to skirt their responsibility to consumers while maintaining the pretense of authenticity.

It is clear that the House has fallen prey to the well-funded disinformation campaign by GMO companies and have dealt a blow to democracy, truth, and public health,” said Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology. “In spite of what the representatives announced from the floor of the House, GMOs are not safe, not well regulated, and are not needed to feed the world. Labeling will not increase costs and consumers are not the confused ones. It’s the Congresspersons who are confused.”

Because the federal law would supercede state law, it would, in effect, negate state laws previously passed in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts that required the labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

In total, there have been more than 70 pieces of legislation introduced in 30 states that deal with the labelling of GMO products, according to the Center for Food Safety.

Detractors also point to connections between Rep. Pompeo and private interests that have a stake in promoting more lax GMO labelling legislation. In the 2013-2014 campaign cycle, Koch Industries was Pompeo’s No. 1 campaign supporter, donating a total of $114,400, according to opensecrets.org.

Pulp and paper manufacturer Georgia-Pacific is a Koch subsidiary and a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, one of the bill’s largest supporters. Both Georgia-Pacific and Monsanto, another GMA member, have donated money to campaigns against state GMO labelling legislation in the past.

Monsanto is one of the largest producers of GMO seeds in the U.S. and holds patents related to several genetically-modified seeds used by farmers, including RoundUp-resistant soybean seeds.

The vote represented a rare instance in which many representatives failed to toe the party line. For example, U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) voted “no” on the bill, while Democrats Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema voted “aye” on the measure.

Representatives Franks and Sinema did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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