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GMO labeling proponents hold a sign during a march in San Francisco in 2013. (Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)

In Victory for Food and Biotech Industries, Congress Passes DARK Act 2.0

"We urge President Obama to remember his campaign promise to let consumers know what they are eating by rejecting this bill."

Andrea Germanos

President Barack Obama is poised to sign the so-called DARK Act, a GMO labeling bill critics say notches a win for the food and biotech industries but will still leave consumers in the dark about whether or not their food contains genetically modified ingredients.

After the legislation easily passed in the U.S. House on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal described it as "a victory for food companies," noting that it "will supersede tougher measures passed by one state [Vermont] and considered in others."

As The Hill reports:

The bill, which passed by a 306 to 117 vote, directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a national labeling standard that allows food producers to choose how they want to disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients.

Under the legislation, manufacturers will be able to use text, symbols or a QR code that consumers must scan with a smartphone to relay the information.

As such, BloombergPolitics reports,

Under the legislation, which has been pushed for by companies including Monsanto Co., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and groups including the National Corn Growers Association, consumers may still find it hard to figure out if the food they are buying is genetically modified, leading opponents to dub the bill the DARK Act.

A roll call of the vote is here.

It passed the Senate last week, and now heads to President Obama, who's indicated he will sign it —against the wishes of many food transparency advocacy groups.

Gary Ruskin, co-director of pro-labeling group U.S. Right to Know, urged Obama to veto the legislation, saying in a press statement that it "is a sweetheart deal for the food and agrichemical industries, who want to keep consumers guessing about the contents of their food."

Similarly criticizing the legislation on Thursday was Ronnie Cummins, international director of Organic Consumers Association, who said in a statement, "Congress trampled on consumer and states' rights, choosing instead to serve the interests of Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association."

"This bill was written bought and paid for by corporations who clearly have something to hide," he continued. "Replacing clear, on-package labels with a system that is convoluted, inconvenient, and discriminates against the elderly, the poor and anyone without a smartphone or internet access is inexcusable, especially when consumers in 64 other countries have the right to that same information."

There's also the fact that the majority of Americans support labeling of GMOs, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, says.

She added, "If this bill becomes law, the food and biotech industries win what are essentially voluntary requirements. This so-called 'compromise' does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance, and many loopholes in the bill will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements. The bill gives companies the option to use discriminatory and cumbersome QR codes that require a smartphone to access basic information about the food on store shelves."

"We urge President Obama to remember his campaign promise to let consumers know what they are eating by rejecting this bill. This is his final chance to get it right when it comes to food policies that protect people over corporations. He can do just that by vetoing the DARK Act," Hauter said.

Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson added his voice to the chorus of opposition by sending Obama a letter (pdf) on Thursday urging him to veto the measure.

Echoing some of Cummins and Hauter's concerns, Jackson writes that the "law's principal thrust is to rely on QR codes which shoppers will scan to gain product information relative to GMOs. However, 100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smart phone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity."

"As someone who, like yourself, has traversed the rocky upward path to social and economic justice on behalf of those at the other side of society's great divides, racial, social and economic," he added, "I want to call to your attention serious inequities on GMO labeling legislation coming soon to your desk."

Carey Gillam, journalist and research director for U.S. Right to Know, reported last month on how the legislation has "blown wide open deep divisions running through the U.S. organic industry." 

The Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) announced Wednesday that it withdrew its membership from the influential Organic Trade Association (OTA), decrying the "duplicity towards organic farmers and consumers" when OTA signed off on the bill, despite the fact that it "would immediately preempt existing strong state GMO labeling laws that are widely supported by the organic community and ninety percent of consumers."


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