Updated Anti-GMO-Labeling Act Doubles Down on Big Ag’s Corporate Secrecy

The revision of the bill would also take away states’ ability to enforce labeling of genetically modified foods.

(Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

Jun 19, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

It’s officially called the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, but most Americans know it by its colloquial, possibly more accurate name: the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act, aka DARK Act. It was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas in 2014, and it proposes a federally sanctioned label that companies could use to market their products as GMO-free as long as they complete a certification process that would be overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

That sounds great. Labeling at the federal level, a governmental certification process—finally, Big Ag getting on board with corporate transparency. Except that it makes GMO labeling completely voluntary, which is completely ineffective. The Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance in 2001 that stated food manufacturers could voluntarily label their foods as containing GMOs—and in the 14 years since then, not one company has.

It’s brilliant, in a way. If passed, the DARK Act and its supporters—including the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food, the same pro–food industry group that helped quash the proposed soda tax in San Francisco last November—get to look like the good guys in the fight for GMO labels. It’s the ultimate corporate spin move. It’s like a child admitting to breaking Grandma’s glasses so no one notices he stole her diamond necklace.

On Thursday, a new revision to the bill was announced and threw another roadblock in front of GMO transparency. The newest iteration is trying to establish the precedent that individual states cannot introduce labeling laws because they would interfere with interstate commerce. So Vermont’s mandatory GMO-labeling law, set to go into effect in 2016, would be null and void.

So, Why Should You Care? Even though there’s no hard scientific evidence that genetically modified crops are bad for human health, corporate transparency and the ability of people to demand the truth about their purchases are core tenets of American democracy. Activists fear the DARK Act would use lobbyist money from the Grocery Manufacturers of America—a trade group representing food giants such as Starbucks and Con Agra—to intentionally keep consumers ignorant about the products they’re buying.

“This new bill is actually worse for consumers than the first anti-labeling bill,” said Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president of government affairs. “Rep. Pompeo is doubling down on his effort to keep consumers in the dark by also blocking state efforts to protect farmers and rural residents from dangerous herbicides used with GMO crops.”

Earlier in June, the Mellman Group released a poll, funded by Just Label It, showing that nearly 90 percent of Americans—regardless of party affiliation, age, race, or education—want mandatory GMO labeling.