Congress Threatens GMO Labeling
OPINION -- While most Americans were celebrating our freedom last week, Monsanto, their allies in corporate agriculture, and the senators they have in their pockets were working hard to undermine it.
They succeeded. Last Thursday night, the U.S. Senate voted 63-30 for a disastrous bill that will take away mandatory labeling for GMO’s, foods produced through genetic engineering.
It came days after Vermont’s real mandatory GMO labeling bill went into effect July 1. Already, several national companies had already started to put such labels on their foods, such as Campbell’s, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Mars.
But the bill, S. 764, co-sponsored by Kansas Republican Pat Roberts and Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, puts all the progress on hold. Here’s what it does – it doesn’t get much worse for consumers:
- Pre-empts Vermont’s law, and any other state’s, wiping out the opportunity for them to require any GMO labeling
- Delays for at least two years any federal requirements
- Contains language so vague that many foods already understood to be genetically engineered might not even be required to be included. This could include refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and Monsanto’s GMO soybeans, canola and corn. Even the GMO-friendly FDA was critical of the wording.
- Doesn’t require labeling – it would allow food companies to use an 800 number or a QR code, which can only be read by a smart phone. If you didn’t have a smart phone, like many low-income people, seniors and rural residents, you’d be out of luck. So much for equal treatment under the law.
That’s what it does. What it doesn’t do is have any penalties for companies that wouldn’t bother to obey these minimum requirements. Not have any teeth? It doesn’t even have gums.
To his credit, Sen. Jeff Merkley led the battle against S. 764, along with Bernie Sanders, both demonstrating again their willingness to fight for the common good. Ron Wyden also voted against it.
In the House, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici voted against an earlier version of the bill, known as the DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know. Republican Greg Walden, following the corporate party line, voted for it.
That leaves Kurt Schrader, who joined Walden in voting for it. In the case of S. 764, it’s not hard to see that “bipartisanship” is window dressing for selling out the public and the right to know what’s in our food.
Biotech and Big Food want this bill – bad. Expect it to be fast-tracked and brought up for a vote in the House as early as tomorrow and rushed to President Obama for his signature.
Numerous surveys have found that 80%-90% of consumers want GMO labeling, a level of support almost unprecedented for any issue. Yet once again, corporate interests have lined up to block it, just as they did by spending $20 million to defeat Oregon’s Measure 92 to require GMO labeling in 2014.
In a classic act of defiance – and clarity - Organic Consumers Association representatives dropped 2,000 $1 bills onto the Senate floor to protest our democracy once again being put up for sale. The video says it all.
The only hope to stop the Dark Act is by a massive public outcry. Please call your House representatives (888-754-9091) AND President Obama (202-456-1111 (9-5 EST)) right away to urge them to oppose S. 764.
Rick North is the former executive vice president of the Oregon American Cancer Society and former project director of Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Campaign for Safe Food. Now retired, he's working to address the undue corporate influence on our elections, government and most aspects of our lives.