The bill seeks to institute a federal GMO labeling law that puts authority in the hands of the FDA, which thus far has not been willing to take on that task. The bill would ensure that the FDA has sole authority to determine the conditions under which a bioengineered food should carry a GMO label. It would also establish the core requirements for manufacturers to make claims regarding the presence or absence of GMO ingredients in their products.
The bill further stipulates that a food producer may not suggest or imply that a food produced without bioengineered ingredients is safer than foods that do contain them. So it is easy to see that this bill was not developed by those who are fighting for a strong non-GMO label.
The debate in our capital continues to rage on as to whether or not there is a material difference between a food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism and its comparable non-bioengineered food, and if the disclosure of such information is necessary to protect the health and safety of the public. Furthermore, is the labeling, or lack of, such food false or misleading? The bill states that: “The use of bioengineering does not, by itself, constitute a material difference.” (1)
What Does the FDA Want?
The FDA currently favors a voluntary approach to the issue. The bill, which has the support of the food, biotechnology and agriculture industries, may get pushback from the FDA for a number of reasons, including 1 - the need to define the term "natural," and 2 - requiring food companies to notify the agency before any new GMO ingredient goes on the market. Currently both of these processes are voluntary. It should be noted that no company has ever voluntarily labeled GMO ingredients in its product, although the FDA policy has been in effect since 1991. In effect, much would remain the status quo if this bill is passed and there would be no GMO labeling at all.
The word "natural" is currently unregulated in the food industry, leading to much confusion in the public sector. The DARK Act, unfortunately, seeks to further complicate the issue by directing the FDA to define what is meant by “natural" foods and what would be required to make a “natural,” “100% natural,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or “made with natural ingredients” claim. In and of itself that is not a bad directive, however the bill wants to allow that GE foods are “natural.” This is clearly twisting the truth, and will further mislead the general public. It would potentially make it possible for food producers to put a “natural” label on products that contain GE ingredients or to claim that all GE ingredients currently on the market are “safe.”
Why Is A Federal GMO Labeling Law Not A Good Thing?
Very simply, a federal GMO labeling law such as the DARK Act is negative because it would preempt any state or local regulations or laws. It would bar states with stronger requirements regarding GMO labeling, undoing the work that has already been done to accomplish these regulations. This particular federal bill, favored by groups and associations that do not seek to regulate or halt the use of GMOs, is watered-down and full of loopholes. Any federal law supersedes state regulations.
Scott Faber, on behalf of Just Label It and, indeed, the American people, appeared in Washington to testify against the bill. He urged a congressional panel to “support laws that protect Americans’ right to know. (He said) "A modest disclosure on the back of food packages will not only give consumers basic information about what's in their food and how it was produced, but will also cure the consumer confusion caused by the widespread us of misleading claims like 'natural'." (2)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), a strong ally of the GMO labeling movement, has also introduced a federal bill (S. 809); this one mandating the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. Boxer has the advantage of a companion bill (H.R. 1699) in the House of Representative from Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon). A bill such as Boxer's would be advantageous to the GMO labeling cause.
Pompeo's Point of View
Says Pompeo, "We believe the only mandatory information that appears on a food label should be decided by the FDA, and it should focus on the safety and nutritional content of a product.”(3) According to FactCheck.org, Congressman Pompeo "accepted $21,000 so far in this campaign cycle from political action committees run by companies or groups opposed to labeling, including $5,000 from Bayer, $4,500 from General Mills, $4,000 from Dow Chemical and $2,000 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association" in addition to another $1,000 from Monsanto.(4)
Supporters of the DARK Act include the American Soybean Association, the North American Millers' Association and the National Corn Growers Association. Opponents of the bill include the Organic Trade Association, the Environmental Working Group and, of course, Just Label It, among many other Right To Know and Organic groups.
A Final Question
Since President Obama took office, many public interest groups that support GMO labeling have called on him to come through on his 2007 campaign promise to label GMO's. If this is what a watered-down federal labeling bill will be, we have to ask ourselves, does it still make sense?
1 - http://www.patentdocs.org/2014/05/gmo-labeling-bill-introduced-in-the-house.html
2 - http://justlabelit.org/ewgs-scott-faber-testifies-against-anti-ge-labeling-bill/