Polls have shown time and again that the overwhelming majority of Americans want GMO labeling on food.
Despite that, two Congressmen – who are supposed to represent the people – want to make the labeling of genetically modified foods voluntary.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and co-sponsor Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) introduced their deceptively-titled “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” bill last week. It would create a voluntary federal labeling standard while preventing states from passing their own mandatory labeling laws for GMO foods.
The bill has been aptly nicknamed the Denying Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) Act by critics.
If this sounds familiar, perhaps that is because this isn’t Pompeo’s first attempt at this kind of legislation.
Rep. Mike Pompeo will introduce legislation backed by powerful trade groups to prevent states from passing laws requiring the labeling of genetically-modified foods, according to reports. The bill is linked to biotech giant Monsanto and Koch Industries.
Pompeo will offer the bill in the US House before Congress leaves for Easter recess later this month, The Hill newspaper reported, citing industry sources. Politico also reported on the impending proposal. Pompeo’s office would not comment on the congressman’s intentions for a labeling restriction.
The bill includes a “prohibition against mandatory labeling,” according to The Hill, echoing powerful interest groups that have already declared war against such “right to know” labeling laws around the nation.
Why would Pompeo push so hard for this kind of legislation?
Perhaps he owes the Koch Brothers a few favors. After all, they donated $104,000 to Pompeo during the 2014 election cycle – far more than they gave any other politician. In the 2011 – 2012 cycle, they gave Pompeo $115,000, and in 2010, he was the single largest recipient of campaign funds from the Kochs.
After winning the election with Koch money, Congressman Pompeo hired a Koch Industries lawyer to run his office. According to The Washington Post, Pompeo then introduced bills friendly to Koch Industries while Koch hired outside lobbyists to support them.
Sounds like a cozy little partnership, doesn’t it?
Last year, in their press release titled Koch Industries and Monsanto Team up to End Your Right to Know, the Center for Food Safety exposed why the relationship between Pompeo and the Koch Brothers is so significant:
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.
We could continue to become entangled in the complex web of relationships between the politicians and companies that stand to benefit from GMO product sales, but that would take hours to read. Andy Bellatti, Registered Dietitian and Strategic Director of Dietitians For Professional Integrity, touched on the sneaky (and quite dirty) tactics the food industry uses to influence policy and public opinion in his revealing article Front Groups: Big Food’s Behind-the-Scenes Strategy. If you’d like to learn more about these insidious connections, that article is a good place to start.
Back to Pompeo’s bill: to date, it has 20 co-sponsors (12 Republicans and 8 Democrats) including Butterfield. Currently, GMO labeling is voluntary, and has been for the last 14 years. This bill, if passed, would codify the voluntary standard, would limit the authority of the FDA to require labeling, and would create conditions to allow GM foods to be labeled “natural.”
The Center for Food Safety elaborates:
The new addition to the bill is a provision that seeks to create a federal certification process for voluntary non-GMO labels that would replace the current non-GMO standard developed by the private sector. While such marketing claims allow companies to distinguish themselves in the marketplace, the labeling of non-GE foods and organic foods is a marketing tool limited to only about 2% of products on store shelves and not widely available to most shoppers, and therefore should not be a substitute for mandatory disclosure. In addition, Non-GMO disclosures may also mislead consumers into believing other, unlabeled products are genetically engineered even when they are not, thus perpetuating consumer confusion.
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said this is not the solution Americans are seeking:
“An overwhelming majority of American consumers want to know if their food has been produced using genetic engineering. That is their right and they will not relent until Congress or the FDA heed their call.
This is a faulty and disingenuous attempt to assuage consumer concern without actually giving the people the information they want and deserve. The most effective way to provide consumers with the full universe of information about their food is through mandatory labeling, nothing less.”
In 2013 and 2014, more than 30 states introduced legislation to require GE labeling. Laws were recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine. In addition, 64 countries around the world require GE food labeling and have not reported higher food costs as a result.
A competing bill (one that was initially introduced in 2013, but didn’t go anywhere) titled the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced in the Senate in February of this year by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and in the House by Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). Their bill would require labels for all foods produced using genetically engineered ingredients and would prohibit manufacturers from labeling genetically modified foods as natural.
Even if you believe genetically modified foods are safe to eat, isn’t it fair to require labeling on such products? DeFazio told The Hill that GMO labeling is simple logic:
“The argument on their side is it’s generally recognized as safe and therefore it shouldn’t be on the label. Well, red dye number 2 is generally recognized as safe, but it’s on the label. This is information consumers want.”
For now, it appears that consumers are on our own, and will likely continue to be. If you’d like to let your representatives know how you feel about GMO labeling, contact them and speak your mind.
In the meantime, read this article for tips to help you navigate the stores while you are grocery shopping: How to Avoid GMOs When You’re on a Budget.