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labeling proponents hold a sign during a march in San Francisco in 2013.
(Photo: Steve Rhodes/flickr/cc)
President Barack Obama
is poised to sign the so-called DARK Act, a GMOlabeling 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 Journaldescribed it as "a victory for food
companies," noting that it "will supersede tougher measures passed by
one state [Vermont] and considered in others."
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.
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.
It passed the Senate
last week, and now heads to President Obama, who'sindicated he will sign it —against the
wishes of many food transparency advocacy groups.
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."
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
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
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
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.
The Organic Seed
Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) announcedWednesday 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."