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(Northampton) Local, state, and federal officials joined leading public health, food and consumer advocates pledging to continue the fight for food transparency with meaningful GMO labeling while denouncing the recently passed, industry backed, national GMO labeling law, also known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know).
Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-2), State Representatives Ellen Story (Amherst), Todd Smola (Palmer), John Sciback (South Hadley), and others, praised GMO leaders and volunteers in Northampton for their work in elevating the issue and called for continued advocacy in securing consumers’ right to know more about their food.
The new law, passed just weeks ago, departs dramatically from laws passed at the state level, as well as international standards. In contrast to commonsense ‘plain language’ labels, the new law would allow obscure symbols, codes, and 1-800 numbers. While most laws use standard definitions for the term “genetic engineering,” this law introduces its own definition for “bioengineering,” one which could exclude many genetically engineered foods from being labeled. The new law repeals labeling laws already passed, most notably Vermont’s law which went into effect on July 1st, and prevents states and municipalities from adopting stronger GMO-labeling laws.
“Last month, Congress passed a watered-down and industry-backed GMO labeling bill that falls far short of the transparency Americans are demanding. Every family deserves to know what’s in the food they feed their children and that will only happen when we enact strong GMO labeling requirements,” Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-02) said. “I am proud to stand side-by-side with such strong champions for consumers today. We will continue to lift up the voices of families across Massachusetts as we push for the clear and strong GMO labeling standards that millions of Americans are calling for.”
“I was dismayed by the passage of this federal bill, said State Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst), one of the chief sponsors of the Massachusetts GMO labeling bill. “It sabotages the efforts that states were attempting on their own. We all know there should be a federal policy, but we would have been better off with nothing than this subversion of consumer rights. I am grateful to Congressman McGovern and the other five members of the delegation that voted against this bill.”
“The new federal GMO labeling law is not the solution that people are asking for,” added State Representative Todd M. Smola (R-Warren). "The lack of a meaningful standard that is simple and straight forward robs consumers of information that they can use to make sound decisions. Bipartisan support for a meaningful GMO labeling standard continues to rise across the country. Consumers have demanded transparency on labeling and we intend to keep working toward that goal."
Deirdre Cummings, Legislative Director for MASSPIRG, said “Poll after poll confirms consumers want to know about GMOs in their food. In fact, because of the pressure consumers, legislators, and organizations generated, some of the biggest food companies like Campbell Soup Company, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars and ConAgra started using simple, plain language, on the package GMO labels on their products. They must keep the label. We call on all food manufacturers to hear our voice, respect our dollar, and give us a simple, plain language, on the package GMO label.”
“As we challenge this sham of a labeling law and help Bay Staters participate in the USDA rulemaking process, we will continue to help consumers vote with their dollars, with or without real mandatory labeling,” said Martin Dagoberto, Campaign Coordinator with MA Right to Know GMOs. “Companies that don’t disclose which products contain genetically engineered ingredients are going to pay a price for that with consumers,” he added.
“Farmers know consumers care deeply about the food they eat and feed their families, that’s why 200 Massachusetts farms endorsed the campaign for GMO labeling,” said Amie Lindenboim, policy organizer, Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter. “This new law further erodes consumers’ trust in corporate American agriculture.”
The DARK Act:
No Labels: Instead of a simple, uniform, easy to read, on-the-package GMO label, like the one in effect in Vermont today, the bill allows companies to use symbols, 1-800 numbers, or QR codes that need to be scanned with smart phones.
Consumer labeling is only useful when it is simple, uniform and easy to compare, anything else doesn’t work and only serves to undermine consumer choice. In fact, poll after poll has shown that ninety percent of Americans are in favor of clear, consistent labeling.
Repeals and prevents adoption of real consumer labeling laws: Even worse, the bill would abolish the GMO labeling law currently in effect in VT, and those passed in ME, CT and AK, and prohibit other states from passing labeling laws, like the one pending in Massachusetts that is cosponsored by 154 of 200 members of the legislature.
Massive Loopholes: The legislation creates a novel definition of “bioengineered food” instead of using well-accepted terminology. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as many legal and policy experts, are critical of the bill, arguing that the narrow definition of “bioengineering” would “likely mean that many foods from GE sources will not be subject to this bill”.
Not enforced: The bill is essentially voluntary. There are no enforcement provisions and there are no fines or penalties for non-compliance.
Background: Legislation providing citizens with the basic right to know whether the food they are feeding their families contains genetically engineered (GE or GMO) ingredients has been introduced in more than 30 states, with Vermont, Connecticut, Maine and Alaska already having enacted such laws. Maine and Virginia also have laws that require labeling of GE or GMO seeds. S.764 preempts all GMO food and seed labeling laws and prohibits states from enacting GMO labeling laws.
The Massachusetts legislature was considering H. 3242 - An Act establishing the genetic engineering transparency food labeling act, cosponsored by a broad, bipartisan coalition of 154 (out of 200) lawmakers; more than 450 organizations, businesses, and farms; and 40,000 residents who signed petitions calling for labeling. Eight newspapers across the state had called for the bill’s passage.
Legislation proposing plain English GMO labeling was met with fierce opposition from the biotechnology, Big Ag, and grocery manufacturing lobbies, who spent millions to defeat legislation in the states. As the July 1, 2016 implementation date of Vermont’s GMO law loomed, those powerful special interests turned to Congress to undermine consumers’ right to know.
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