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Photo: Daniel Lobo/cc/flickr

Photo: Daniel Lobo/cc/flickr

'Monsanto, Koch Alliance'? GOP Congressman Pushes Bill to Block GMO Labeling

Koch brothers-supported Rep. wants industry-supported, industry-benefiting bill to deny Americans' right to know

Andrea Germanos

In a move slammed as sealing "an unholy alliance between Monsanto and Koch Industries," a Kansas congressman has submitted legislation that would ban state-level GMO labeling laws.

Called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014, the industry-supported legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo would "amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act with respect to food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism, the labeling of natural foods, and for other purposes."

On labeling, it states that

If the Secretary determines that there is a material difference between a food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism and its comparable marketed food and that disclosure of such difference is necessary to protect health and safety or to prevent the label or labeling of such food from being false or misleading, the Secretary may, in a response under subsection (d)(2)(A), specify labeling that would adequately inform consumers of such material difference. The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference. [...]

no State or political subdivision of a State may directly or indirectly establish under any authority or continue in effect as to any food in interstate commerce any requirement for the labeling of a food by virtue of its having been developed using bioengineering, including any requirements for claims that a food is or contains an ingredient that was developed using bioengineering.

Touting the legislation, Pompeo states that it "prevents a mishmash of labeling standards" and "would protect consumers by eliminating confusion and advancing food safety."

The legislation doesn't protect consumers, writes Scott Faber, Vice President of Government Affairs at Environmental Working Group (EWG). He points out that critics have dubbed the legislation the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, and states, "It’s clear the public wants to know what’s in their food, but if Rep. Pompeo has his way, no one will have that right."

A New York Times poll conducted last year showed overwhelming public support —93 percent —for labeling of GMOs.

Other food safety advocates have also criticized the legislation, and called for close scrutiny of the big money and influence behind Pompeo, like the Koch brothers.

According to reporting by the Washington Post Pompeo took in $80,000 from Koch Industries in 2010, "making him the top recipient of Koch-related money in the 2010 elections."

"In the late 1990s, Pompeo joined three buddies from his West Point days to form Thayer Aerospace in Wichita, a specialized machining company that sought financing for an expansion. The investors included Koch Venture Capital, an arm of the oil-and-gas conglomerate [. . .]"

"In addition to contributions from Koch’s political-action committee and employees, Pompeo was supported in the general election, according to press reports, by Americans for Prosperity, a tea-party-affiliated Washington group whose foundation is chaired by David Koch."

Pompeo has also taken in nearly $170,000 from agribusiness since 1989.

As EWG notes, those who stand to benefit from Pompeo's legislation are some of those who've been his biggest donors.

The Center for Food Safety adds:

Koch Industries’ subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated more than $7 million against the recent Washington State ballot initiative to label GE foods. Monsanto, another GMA member, was the single largest contributor to that campaign. Between Washington State and California, Monsanto, GMA (including Georgia-Pacific), and others, have contributed over $67 million to keep consumers in the dark about GE foods.

In addition to attempts to defeat those state level GMO labeling efforts, the GMA announced earlier this year that it was pushing for just the kind of legislation Pompoeo is now advancing.

Now, GMA and other industry groups like the Biotechnology Industry Organization are cheering Pompeo's legislation.

"GMA’s selection of Congressman Pompeo as their champion shows how extreme the proposal really is," stated Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs for Center for Food Safety. "Selecting Pompeo creates an unholy alliance between Monsanto and Koch Industries, two of the most reviled corporations in America."

The pro-labeling group Organic Consumers Association (OCA) said the proposal "would not only keep labels off of our food, but it is a direct attack on states’ constitutional right to pass laws to protect public health."

"Consumers should be outraged that Rep. Pompeo, or any member of Congress, would co-sponsor a bill written by industry, for the sole purpose of protecting corporate and shareholder profits, when 90 percent of Americans oppose the proposed legislation," stated Ronnie Cummins, national director of OCA.

With Maine and Connecticut having passed GMO labeling bills and other states with expected to take similar action, the legislation might just be a sign that industry is scared, said O’Neil.

"They know that the food movement’s power is growing and that labeling is not a matter of if but when. They are afraid of state action and now they’re trying to steal away consumer choice in Congress," he stated.

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