There’s light at the end of the D.A.R.K. tunnel – US Senators introduce mandatory GMO labeling bill

GMO graphicConsumers have said that they want the right to know what’s in their food. Poll after poll shows  that the large majority favor mandatory food labeling. Yet both houses of Congress think that listening to powerful lobbying instead of their constituents is the way to go.

But even though the U.S. House of Representatives passed their version of the D.A.R.K.  “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know”) Act and the Senate Agricultural Committee has moved their version of this forward, some Senators have actually listened and are taking steps to ensure that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers aren’t subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations.

Today,  Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced legislation that would be a commonsense compromise – “a solution that works for businesses and consumers alike,” said Merkley.

“This bill is an important step forward to give consumers a uniform national mandatory label, and it seeks to address the needs of food producers by giving them a suite of options to comply with a mandatory national label,” said Leahy. “I believe that until a national mandatory label like this is enacted, Congress should not preempt state laws, like Vermont’s Act 120.”

No GMO picThe Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act would allow American consumers to see whether a food has been prepared with GM ingredients, while offering food manufacturers several options for including this information on or near the ingredients list. This framework meets the needs of consumers and producers, who worry that a patchwork of state labeling laws would be costly and difficult to comply with and confusing for consumers.

This new bill, if passed, would require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways:

  1. Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that an ingredient is “Genetically Engineered.”
  2. Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
  3. Manufacturers may simply apply a catch-all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.”
  4. The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging.

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or “warning” statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.

Also this GMO labeling bill would create a uniform Federal GM labeling standard with sufficient flexibility to suit manufacturing operations of various sizes and markets, while also giving national manufacturers in compliance with the federal standard safe harbor from the potential patchwork of state laws.

GMO rice graphicThis legislation is endorsed by food giants Amy’s Kitchen, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell’s Soup Company, as well as Consumers Union, Just Label It, and Nature’s Path.

Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, said, “This bill finds a way to set a national standard and avoid a patchwork of state labeling laws while still giving consumers the information they want and deserve about what’s in their food. This compromise offers food companies different labeling options and ensures that all consumers – no matter where they are in the country or whether they own a smartphone – have the information they overwhelmingly say they want. We urge Senators to support this proposal as they move forward on GMO labeling legislation.”

So stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed. Perhaps if we speak up loud enough – petitions anyone? – our Senators will finally listen and do what’s in our best interest. It could happen.

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