The battle over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, reached the U.S. capital on Wednesday when news broke that Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo will reintroduce a bill that blocks states from requiring GMO labeling.
The legislation, dubbed by critics the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know or DARK Act, grants the Secretary of Health and Human Services sole authority to mandate GMO labeling and sets forth particular standards for any label that contains claims that GMOs were or were not used in the production of the food— hampering any attempts by the Food and Drug Administration to pass legislation on the federal level.
Further, the bill preempts any local or state requirement and thus would overturn existing laws in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, which critics say is a direct attack on state sovereignty. The bill was originally introduced under the last Congress.
Environmental and food sovereignty groups are sounding the alarm.
In a statement, Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association said the Pompeo bill "is not only anti-consumer, but anti-democracy and anti-state's rights as well."
Cummins continued: "Understanding that they are losing the battle at the state level to keep consumers in the dark about whether or not their food is genetically engineered, Monsanto and its minions are now prepared to abolish consumer choice and overturn state's constitutional rights so that they can continued to force feed us their GMO food."
Calling the legislation "Monsanto's dream bill," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of food safety watchdog Food & Water Watch, wrote Wednesday: "Apparently the wave of state-level progress towards labeling GMOs rankled the giant companies that sell GMOs or make processed food out of them, so their trade association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, decided to cut them off from the get-go by orchestrating federal legislation to block the states from getting in the labeling game."
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The legislation is being introduced less than one week after the World Health Organization said that the chemical glyphosate, commonly found in herbicides manufactured by Monsanto and Dow and used widely on GMO crops, is a "probable carcinogen."
Surveys show that more than 90 percent of consumers believe foods made with GMOs should be labeled. Further, 64 countries worldwide already have laws that require GMO labeling. "Supporters of this bill are trying to keep this basic information from their constituents," said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group.
Also Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on Mandatory Biotechnology Labeling Laws to discuss a proposed amendment (pdf) that would federally mandate GMO labeling, which is backed by food safety groups and anti-GMO advocates, including celebrity chef Tom Colicchio.
In a teleconference following the House Agriculture hearing, Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg said the anti-labeling push was "economic tyranny being exercised by companies that want to protect status quo."
"Mandatory labeling gives consumers choices." Hishberg added that the DARK Act, "is really diabolical and it’s really deceptive. It’s made to look like the sponsors support transparency but it really prevents it. This is really about selling pesticides and herbicides."