Last month the United States House of Representatives passed a bill that would lawfully limit consumers’ right to know regarding the labeling of genetically modified ingredients (GMO). The U.S. House passed the bill with 275 lawmakers voting in favor and 150 opposed. Mike Pompeo, a Republican representative from Kansas, has been a strong advocate for the bill which is backed by a biotech and food industry group known as the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. Experts anticipate that the Senate will vote on the bill as early as this September. If passed by the full Congress, this bill could very well end the movement for GMO labeling.
Officially known as the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” this bill has been dubbed the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know, or DARK, Act by consumer advocacy groups because it would block mandatory GMO labeling at the state and national levels. Iit would also explicitly allow companies to continue labeling foods that are produced using genetic engineering as “natural.” National Co+op Grocers (NCG) has raised a call-to-action in opposition to this bill, and is working with partner organizations to defeat it.
The majority of American consumers, according to multiple surveys like the recent Mellman poll, support mandatory labeling of foods produced using genetic engineering. It is estimated that 70 to 80 percent of packaged foods currently contain GMO ingredients, but companies are not required to disclose it.
If the bill passes, labeling will be voluntary-only through the Agriculture Department—a step that will maintain the status quo considering that in the 14 years since the FDA has allowed companies to voluntarily label foods that have been produced using genetic engineering, not a single company has ever chosen to label them as such. Individual states would also be stripped of their ability to require labeling. This would directly impact Vermont, which passed a GMO labeling law that would be implemented by July 1, 2016.
Shortly after the bill was introduced in March, NCG created a Consumer Call-to-Action Toolkit so that its co-ops can quickly and easily inform their shoppers on this issue, and encourage those shoppers who want GMOs labeled to contact Congress in opposition to the bill. “Our call-to-action toolkit is intended to save co-ops valuable time in communicating about this fast-moving issue,” said Allie Mentzer, NCG advocacy specialist. “The ‘right-to-know’ messaging used throughout the toolkit materials is strategic, because if co-ops can all be speaking with a unified voice on this issue, we can be that much more impactful on Capitol Hill.”
NCG supports consumers’ right to information, including sufficient product labeling, so that they can make their own informed food choices, and has been a long-time advocate for mandatory, federally regulated GMO labeling. In addition to direct lobbying on Capitol Hill, NCG is participating in daily strategy calls with D.C. allies in the effort to defeat this bill.
“While we are disappointed that the House passed this bill, our Washington D.C. allies are highly encouraged by the significant number of Representatives who voted “no,” added Mentzer. “The political climate in the Senate is less favorable to passing this bill, and with such strong opposition in the House, there is a good chance that Senators will be even more reluctant support the bill.”
“Mandatory GMO labeling is a priority advocacy issue for NCG and many of our co-ops,” said Robynn Shrader NCG CEO. “As the GMO labeling fight moves into the Senate, now is a critical time for co-ops to raise a call-to-action among their shoppers. We stand a chance of winning this fight, but only if enough lawmakers hear loud and clear from their constituents.”
NCG co-ops can find the call-to-action toolkit on the “advocacy” page of the NCG website. For more information and for updates as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act moves through Congress, see GMO Labeling: A Pivotal Moment on NCG’s consumer-facing website www.strongertogether.coop.