Farmers, states' rights activists, and consumer rights advocates gathered in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to protest outside a hearing on a bill they say would gut states' rights to pass laws requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
The legislation, introduced earlier this year by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), would give sole authority to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to stipulate labeling requirements for GMO foods and would also allow food manufacturers to use the word "natural" on products that contain GMO ingredients.
Groups that oppose the bill—having dubbed it the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act—argue that under the U.S. Constitution, states and municipalities have the right to pass food-labeling laws to protect the health of their citizens. They say the political discussion has been "hijacked" by large packaged food and biotech companies, who have poured big bucks into blocking such local right-to-know initiatives.
"This bill is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and their supporters to keep the public from knowing when they are buying a GMO product."
—U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree
"Every citizen in this country, regardless of political affiliation, should be extremely concerned when Congress allows corporations to write laws, and those laws tromp on the rights of consumers and the constitutional rights of state and local governments to pass their own laws to protect their citizens and communities," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Currently Vermont is the only state with a GMO labeling law in effect. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws, but those laws can’t be enacted unless four or five neighboring states also pass mandatory GMO labeling bills. The DARK Act would make that impossible, leaving the laws in Maine and Connecticut effectively dead. A GMO labeling bill in Oregon just shy of the votes necessary for passage in the November election; the results are currently in a recount.
Led by the Organic Consumers Association, groups including Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, the Weston Price Foundation, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Food Democracy Now organized buses from across the country to attend a Capitol Hill rally ahead of a 10:15 am hearing on the bill in the Health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Speakers at the rally included U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine); state representative Kate Webb, co-sponsor of Vermont’s GMO labeling law; author and attorney Jonathan Emord; Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Vital Choice Wild Seafood in Bellingham, Wash.; and Will Allen, a farmer and author from Vermont.
"The message from consumers around the country is loud and clear: They want to know what’s in their food and they don’t want Congress stepping in to block efforts in states like Maine to require GMO labeling," said Pingree. "This bill is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and their supporters to keep the public from knowing when they are buying a GMO product."
Participants in Wednesday's action were Tweeting under the hashtag #StopDARKAct: