right to knowBy Pamela Denholm

To get everybody up to speed, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are food products, mostly crops and recently salmon, that have been genetically modified to produce certain traits. Genetic intervention was undertaken because scientists are crossing the species barrier, and inserting genes from an entirely different organism and this cannot be achieved through selective breeding. These foods are in our mainstream food system.

There is a lot of controversy around these genetically modified foods. Many have called into question their safety, and the environmental impact of using GMO’s is of grave concern – evident by the recent discovery that GMO Canola plants, which are wind pollinated, are already mutating. GMO’s are also banned in twenty-six other countries, including Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and Italy. In the U.S. they are now so widely distributed they are hard to avoid. A very public and grassroots movement across California and New England states called ‘Right to Know’, is fighting to have GMO foods in our grocery stores labeled as such (as they are in other countries – England for one). The movement has been gaining momentum, with Vermont to be the first state to actually pass laws around the labeling of GMO products.

However, on July 29th, 2016 President Obama signed bill S.764 into law. This law, called the DARK Act, supersedes Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and it has created a lot of confusion amongst the general public because it is being paraded as a broader, Federal solution to the cry for labeling primarily because it gives the USDA two years to come up with labeling criteria for GMO’s that will be nationally implemented. Sounds like a solution right? Wrong. I’d like to clear up any confusion, and share with you why it’s NOT the solution we fought for and I’ll be concise:

  • DARK Act literally stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know.
  • It excludes most processed foods from the label (most processed foods that contain GMO’s)
  • Companies will not have to declare on the package that the product contains GMO’s, consumers will be required to use phones to scan barcodes and then visit a website, or call a number.
  • There will be no enforcement or penalty if products are not labeled

Looks like they a window dressing solution, doesn’t it? What is upsetting was that a grass roots movement driven by individuals with no hidden agenda was undermined by corporations. Here is how the bill got enacted:

  • 764 began life as “A bill to reauthorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act”
  • That original bill, which had nothing to do with food labeling, was initially passed by the Senate, but since it never made it any further, Sen. McConnell then hollowed out S. 764 and replaced it with a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Then that text was gutted and replaced with the first attempt at outlawing state-level GMO labeling laws by creating a voluntary national labeling standard.
  • When that bill failed – and with the July 1 launch of the Vermont labels approaching – two of the Senate’s biggest recipients of agribusiness money, Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) rushed out a “compromise” bill that would eventually create a national standard while outlawing any state-level labeling rules

Because McConnell fast-tracked that bill, it never saw a day in committee, where there would have been hearings involving stakeholders, followed by proposed amendments. Instead, it went straight to the Senate floor, where members from both sides of the political spectrum okayed it with minimal consideration. Call me naïve and idealistic, but fair and equitable process was denied to anybody who fought for their right to know when this bill was enacted last Friday, and it has become more important than ever for anybody who wants the right to know, to vote with their dollar and let their voice be heard.

Resources: Institute for Responsible Technology www.InstituteforResponsibleTechnology.com
Consumerist.com “President Signs a Law…With Barcodes”, July 29, 2016


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