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The defeat of the DARK Act gives new hope for GMO labelling in the US

The DARK Act has been stopped. The law, which would have denied Americans the right to know about GMOs in their food, has been rejected by the Senate.

The bill against labelling genetically modified organisms (GMOs), nicknamed the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, has been voted against in the United States Senate thanks to the tireless efforts of advocacy groups and thousands of concerned citizens who called their senators. The controversial bill, drafted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and introduced by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, would have made genetically engineered (GE) food labelling voluntary. Recent polls show almost 90% of US consumers support mandatory labelling of such products, and over 30 states have introduced legislation to this effect in the past three years.

What citizens want

What most Americans want is simple: a label indicating which foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, a right already granted to citizens in 64 countries around the world. This practice first started in the European Union in 1997, not long after the first genetically modified foods were widely introduced into the market. Surprisingly, biotech giant Monsanto initiated an advertising campaign in the United Kingdom that supported the labelling of GE foods at the time.

 

The history of GMOs, while relatively short, is filled with controversy. A statement recently signed by over three hundred scientists posits that there is no consensus on the safety of these products, although the biotech industry tries to prove otherwise through pro-GMO research that is often self-funded.

The DARK Act

In 2014 the state of Vermont became the first in the United States to pass a law requiring mandatory labelling, which will go into effect on the 1st of July. Connecticut and Maine will also implement similar legislation, but only after neighboring states follow suit.

 

The DARK Act would have prevented US states from requiring mandatory GMO labelling, and jurisdiction over the disclosure of information on such products would have been taken away from the country’s Food and Drug Administration. The bill would have made it hard even for companies such as Campbell’s Soup, who choose to disclose the presence of GE foods in their products.

 

Labelling proponents argue that many myths about labelling have been created by the biotech and food industries in an effort to persuade consumers that GMO foods are safe and labels unnecessary. For example, there is no evidence of increases in the price of products due to label changes and voluntary labelling, allowed since 2001, has never really worked.

 

Chipotle's exhibit at Cultivate Festival in San Francisco, CA
GMO Experience Cultivate Exhibit is seen during Chipotle’s Cultivate in San Francisco, California © Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Rejecting GMOs

Some members of Congress had even suggested adopting QR codes for GMO disclosure as a compromise, but this idea was promptly deemed unacceptable for a lack of transparency, since it would require the consumer to own a smartphone and go through additional steps to find the necessary information. Moreover, QR codes can, at times, be difficult to scan.

 

Until labelling efforts reach the next level, the best protection for consumers wanting to avoid products containing GMOs is to choose certified organic, as well as NON-GMO Project Verified products. Supporting companies like Chipotle, which has banned GE foods from its menu, can also set a good example for other food companies.

 

 

A victory over corporate interests

On the day the DARK Act was voted against by the Senate, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said he was “pleased that Congress stood up to the demands of Monsanto and other multi-national food industry corporations and rejected this outrageous bill. Today’s vote was a victory for the American people over corporate interests”.

 

The rejection of the law also signals renewed hope. A new bill, recently introduced by Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley and currently pending deliberation in the Senate, may face an easier path to being implemented. Called the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act, it would introduce mandatory federal labelling standards, giving consumers the possibility of seeing GMO labels become a reality throughout the United States.

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