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Daily News Blog

29
Jul

Passage of the DARK Act Sheds Light on Next Steps for Opposition

(Beyond Pesticides, July 29 2015) The  Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,  H.R. 1599, often referred to as the “DARK” Act or Denying Americans the Right to Know what is in their food, passed the U.S.  House of Representatives last week by a vote of 275-150. Backed largely by House Republicans, the DARK Act makes it harder for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require mandatory national labeling of genetically engineered (GE) organisms and strengthens current policies that allow companies to voluntarily label foods containing GE products, an option they rarely choose to do. The bill also continues to allow misleading “natural” claims for food that contain GE ingredients. Most concerning, however, is the prohibition  that H.R. 1599 would place  on states’ authority to require labeling of GE ingredients in food products, instituting federal  preemption of state and local authority.

images (1)While the bill was being debated on the floor, co-sponsors Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) repeatedly cited a lack of scientific evidence that GEs were dangerous to support the passage of the bill, ignoring arguments from the opposition that people should be able to know what is in their food, regardless of whether it is considered safe or meets a standard of acceptable risk. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) expressed concerns that H.R. 1599 “would make it impossible for people to be aware of unintended consequences” of GEs and that congress should not purposely withhold information that consumers have demonstrated they wish to have included on food labels across the country. According to a recent study by Consumer Reports National Research Center, more than 70% of Americans said they do not want GEs in their food, and 92% of consumers believe that foods containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled. After the bill passed the House, MSNBC polled  the public on mandatory GE labeled, and an even higher percentage, 94% of the 125,000 polled, responded affirmatively on GEs labeling.

Of immediate concern  is the impact that the DARK Act could have on states that have already passed laws requiring GE labeling within their borders. Vermont, the first state in the nation to pass a GE labeling law and then  survive a federal court challenge from the food industry, could be prevented from implementing its  law when it is slated to go into effect on July 1, 2016. Moreover, states that have come close to passing GE labeling laws in recent years may be deterred from trying to pass them again, knowing they would likely be preempted. Voters in  California  and Washington State narrowly rejected ballot initiatives in 2012 and 2013, respectively, though not without the likes of Monsanto, Bayer, and Dow AgroSciences expending significant  resources to defeat the measures.  In Maui, efforts to pass a GE labeling act were successful in November of last year, but Monsanto and Dow  quickly sued  the county, despite voters’ wishes. In all, according to the Center for Food Safety,  companies funding anti-labeling campaigns have spent over $100 million in just four states —California, Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

Colorado and Oregon have been the target of industry efforts because of attempts by both states to pass GE labeling laws. Colorado initially defeated industry efforts by passing a ballot initiative to label GE foods, with the Colorado Supreme Court siding with consumers’ right to know and allowing the measure to move forward. The GE-labeling law, known as Proposition 105, was eventually defeated, but increased public education efforts and growing national attention on the issue may have the power to change that outcome in the future. In Oregon, passage of a bill would have made it the fourth U.S. state to require GE labeling, but the ballot  initiative narrowly lost last December  in a recount. However, there is some noteworthy progress taking place in the state at the local level. In May of last year, Jackson and Josephine County, Oregon  voted overwhelmingly  to ban the cultivation, production, and distribution of GE crops within their borders.  Connecticut  and  Maine  each passed GE labeling laws, but both bills include a trigger clause requiring several other states to also pass labeling bills before the new laws can be implemented. In 2014, 36 bills were introduced in 20 states and experts are projecting the number to be as high or higher in 2015.

Concerns from those who oppose the DARK Act and support the labeling of GE products are not without merit, and encompass a wide range of side effects, both intended and unintended, that result from their  use. Use of GE crops has resulted in weeds and insects that are more resistant to herbicides and pesticides. According to a  series of studies in the journal  Weed Science, at least 21 different species of weeds are exhibiting resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Roundup-Ready” crops, which leads to an increased use of pest and herbicides to try to combat resistance. Pollen drift from GE crops also poses problems to farmers trying to avoid the use of GE products on their farms, as pollen from GE crops cannot be contained and is often carried beyond property lines by wind, insects or animals. This can cause a great deal of harm, especially if the crops contaminated were intended to be sold as organic. If an organic farmer’s crops are polluted with genetically engineered pollen, they may be required to forfeit their organic certification, which could cause devastating financial setbacks. Direct and indirect harms to human health caused by GE products are also of concern, specifically when it comes to the high levels of chemicals such as glyphosate, recently classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), on the crops and the impact those dangerous pesticides can have on those who come into contact with them through dermal exposure or ingestion. You can learn more about the reasons to say no to genetically engineered crops and food by reading Beyond Pesticides’  factsheet on the subject or visiting the Genetic Engineering page on our website.

All is not lost in the fight for GE labeling, however, and H.R. 1599 still has a long way to go before it becomes law. A version of the bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate, and even if it passes the second chamber of the legislature, President Obama would still have to sign the bill into law. To prevent this from happening, we encourage individuals to take immediate action by telling your Senators that you oppose the Dark Act and support federally mandated GE labeling. Click here to send a letter to your Senators through our website.

Source: H.R. 1599

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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