Groups Rally Against GMO Legislation

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and other organizations, citizens, farmers and activists converged on the nation's capital to attend a Dec. 10 hearing to protest a bill that they contend "would pre-empt states' rights to pass laws requiring the mandatory labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs)."

H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Act -- also known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act by groups in favor of mandatory labeling of GMOs -- was introduced this past April by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and, according to OCA, drafted with input from the biotech and processed food industries.

"Every citizen in this country, regardless of political affiliation, should be extremely concerned when Congress allows corporations to write laws, and those laws tromp on the rights of consumers and the constitutional rights of state and local governments to pass their own laws to protect their citizens and communities," noted Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Washington, D.C.-based online and grass-roots nonprofit public interest organization.

"The message from consumers around the country is loud and clear: They want to know what's in their food and they don't want Congress stepping in to block efforts in states … to require GMO labeling," added Rep. Chellie Pingree, (D-Maine). "This bill is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and their supporters to keep the public from knowing when they are buying a GMO product."

According to Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Washington-based Grocery Manufacturing Association, which supports the bipartisan legislation, it "would eliminate consumer uncertainty created by a state-by-state patchwork of labeling laws, advance food safety, inform consumers and provide consistency in labeling."

Added Bailey: "The bill reaffirms the FDA as America's pre-eminent authority on food safety and labeling requirements; requires the FDA to approve all new GMO ingredients before they are brought to market; and establishes federal standards for companies that wish to voluntarily label their products for the absence-of or presence-of GMO food ingredients."

Testimony From Both Sides

Among those testifying against the legislation at the hearing, held by the subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce at the Rayburn Building, were Scott Faber, VP of government affairs at Washington-based Environmental Working Group (EWG), and Rep. Kate Webb, assistant majority leader of the Vermont House of Representatives and co-sponsor of the Green Mountain State's GMO labeling law, while those who testified in favor of the legislation included representatives from the FDA's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, the Snack Food Association (SFA), and the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis.

“Mandatory GMO labeling at the state level would impact nearly every aspect of SFA members' business, upping costs by requiring increased product inventory, added complexity for packaging and distribution processes, and extensive new regulatory and training requirements,” noted Thomas W. Dempsey Jr., president and CEO of the Arlington-based association, adding that small, family-owned companies would be the most affected, and that “these costs could put some companies out of business…” Pro-labeling advocates have taken issue with such statements, as well as the position that labeling laws would deter consumers from buying products containing GMOs.

In addition to attending the hearing, the pro-labeling protesters were slated to take part in a rally on the Capitol grounds, where scheduled speakers included Pingree; Webb; attorney and author Jonathan Emord; Randy Hartnell, founder and president of Bellingham, Wash.-based Vital Choice Wild Seafood; and Vermont farmer, activist and author Will Allen, among others.

If passed, H.R. 4432 would give sole authority to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to specify labeling requirements for foods containing GMOs. In May of this year, Vermont passed a stand-alone GMO-labeling law; Maine and Connecticut subsequently passed similar laws, but they can’t be enacted unless four or five contiguous states also pass mandatory GMO-labeling bills. H.R. 4432 would prevent that, thus effectively nullifying the Maine and Connecticut laws. The outcome of Measure 92, Oregon’s GMO-labeling initiative, won't be known until a recount is completed.

Sixty-four countries currently require corporations to reveal whether their products contain GMOs, and more than 90 percent of Americans polled said they want similar legislation.