Considering the ridiculous number of things that appear to be going nowhere in Washington—like, say, President Obama’s next Supreme Court nomination—it seems a particularly troubling sign of the times that a bill designed to effectively outlaw the kind of food labeling that a vast majority of Americans say they want just passed a key Senate committee with bipartisan support.
I’m talking about legislation that pro-labeling activists have effectively dubbed the Denying Americans the Right to Know—or DARK—Act. While the moniker is used as a catch-all, we're now talking about two bills. The first, with the rather Orwellian name Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, was passed last summer by the House. Today, similar legislation advanced in the Senate after being passed by the chamber's agriculture committee, with a handful of farm-state Democrats joining Republicans to give the measure a comfortable 14–6 majority.
Both bills are hasty efforts to override laws that have been passed in a number of states (some of them won't be implemented until a block of neighboring states have similar laws) that would require food makers to label products that contain ingredients made from genetically modified organisms. Vermont’s landmark law is slated to take effect on July 1.
Related: Bernie and Hillary Support GMOs—but They Don’t Want Labeling Laws to Go ‘DARK’
Instead of mandatory labeling at the state level, the bills advancing in Washington would create a strictly voluntary program by which food companies could choose to label GMO foods or more likely, not. As labeling proponents have pointed out, a voluntary labeling program exists at the federal level, and the number of food makers that have taken advantage of it to let consumers know the foods they’re buying are made with GMO ingredients is precisely zero. However, some companies that have aggressively campaigned against mandatory labeling are selectively marketing their products as non-GMO.
Advocacy groups such as Just Label It, the Center for Food Safety, and the Environmental Working Group have all waged a very public, very vocal battle to try to halt the DARK Act. Indeed, it was just such activists that succeeded in creating and publicizing such an apt and ad-ready acronym. They were rallying again Tuesday to decry the latest committee vote in the Senate.
"The version of the DARK Act that passed the Senate Agriculture Committee today would rob Americans of their right to know what’s in their food,” the EWG’s Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. “Nine out of ten Americans want the same rights as consumers in Russia, China and more than 60 other nations that require mandatory GMO labeling. We remain hopeful that the Senate will craft a national, mandatory GMO labeling system that provides consumers with basic factual information about their food.”
But with the notable exception of Campbell’s, the majority of big food makers have been lobbying hard to prevent any such mandatory labeling, going so far as to promulgate ridiculous “studies” that purport to show that requiring GMO labeling would add $1,050 to the average American family’s grocery bill each year. Other more objective analyses have found the actual number to be between $2.30 and $15.01 per person.
Can anything stop the DARK Act now? Despite the support of Democrats on the agriculture committee such as North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, the Senate’s version won’t likely get as a warm reception from Democrats in the full chamber, and it will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
As The Associated Press reports, Vermont’s senators have strongly opposed any efforts by the feds to block their state’s law, and one of those senators, we hear, has quite a reputation for being vocal. His name is Bernie Sanders.