Last-Minute Budget Deal Won’t Include DARK Act Provision

The must-pass omnibus bill, expected to be signed into law, includes a number of food-policy-related riders.

Thanks to an omnibus spending bill revealed Wednesday that’s widely believed will pass both the House and the Senate by the end of the week, there will be no government shutdown this year. But the bill is packed with a lot more than budget numbers and tax breaks: Lawmakers attempted to tack on numerous food-policy-related riders to the bill, including ones regarding controversial issues such as GMO labeling and the genetically engineered salmon that the FDA recently approved for retail sale.

When it comes to genetically engineered foods, the anti-GMO crowd will be pleased to learn that what activists have labeled the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act—did not end up getting attached to the budget bill. The labeling bill, backed by the food industry, would have preempted state-level laws like the one passed in Vermont and would have created a voluntary federal labeling program. Critics say that any labeling law that doesn’t require foods containing genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled will be used as a promotional tool by food makers—and won’t offer any transparency to consumers.

“We applaud congressional leaders for rejecting efforts to block state GMO labeling laws in the omnibus,” Colin O’Neil, the Environmental Working Group’s director of agriculture policy, said in a statement. “An end-of-the-year, must-pass spending bill is the wrong vehicle to address an issue as important as our right to know what’s in our food and how it’s grown.”

Another rider will require that the FDA develop labeling guidelines for the genetically engineered salmon it recently approved. While regulations on the production of the fish would be tight, the FDA did say that it would have to be labeled when it issued the long-pending approval—which has generated further cries from pro-labeling activists that industry and the government are denying consumers the right to know what they’re eating. If the bill is passed with the rider intact, sale of the salmon will be blocked until the labeling guidelines are completed and implemented—a process that could take years. Between the labeling holdup and the large number of retailers that have said the salmon will not be stocked at their stores, the future is not looking bright for the first transgene animal to be approved for human consumption.

Food-movement folks will find other riders less appealing. Passing the omnibus could lead to the repeal of country-of-origin labeling—COOL—for meat products, leaving consumers in the dark about where their ground beef came from. Also baked into the bill is an extension on the amount of time chain restaurants have to add calorie counts to menus, as well as provisions that could water down the healthier-school-lunch nutrition standards that have been the focus of so much recent controversy.

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