Tag Archives: GMO labeling

DARK Act Passes House, Puts Blinders on Our Right to Know

by Maddie Monty, Policy Advisor, NOFA Vermont

On July 23rd, the House of Representatives passed bill H.R. 1599 by a margin of 275 to 150. This bill, backed primarily by House Republicans, has been given two names. Cleverly branded by its sponsors as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, the bill has instead become widely known to the national Food Movement as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.

Despite its benevolent title, farmer and consumer groups have seen the DARK Act for what it is: a direct attack on mandatory GMO labeling laws passed by Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine in recent years and an effort to undermine consumers’ demand for information about the food they eat.

Stop the DARK Act!
Cleverly branded by its sponsors as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, the bill has instead become widely known to the national Food Movement as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.

While much of the House testimony in favor of the Act referenced the need for a national labeling standard, the DARK Act would in fact do just the opposite.  By prohibiting FDA from ever requiring the labeling of GMO foods, the Act would codify the current federal policy of voluntary labeling: a policy that has been in place for 14 years, during which time not one food manufacturer has ever chosen to label their products as containing GMOs.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the DARK Act would not only prohibit FDA from requiring GMO labeling, it would also nullify Vermont’s labeling law slated to go into effect in July 2016. The bill would allow the use of misleading “natural” claims on GMO products to continue, while limiting the ability of states and localities to regulate GMOs in ways that safeguard farmers and consumers.

One thing proponents of the DARK Act can’t deny is widespread citizen support for mandatory GMO labeling. In recent years, a multitude of national polls (conducted by ABC News, Consumer Reports, the Washington Post, Reuters/NPR, the New York Times, and others) have repeatedly found that over 90% of Americans want GMO foods to be labeled.

While biotechnology companies and junk food manufacturers have long seen GMO labels as a skull and crossbones, a UVM study recently found that GMO labels do not serve as a warning label to consumers. Under Vermont’s labeling law, manufacturers will simply be required to disclose on the package and in plain language whether their product was made with genetic engineering. In fact, labeling GMOs is something these same companies are already doing in 64 other countries around the world, which begs the question: why not here?

Unfortunately, the list of corporations and interest groups backing the DARK Act is a lengthy and well-funded one. It includes companies like ConAgra Foods, Dow AgroSciences, PepsiCo and Monsanto. Political contribution reports clearly show that the deep pockets of Big Food were brought to bear in passing H.R. 1599. House members who voted in favor of the DARK Act received an average of $70,426 per vote from interest groups and industry, with some individual members receiving as much as $500,000 from the bill’s supporters.

The bill will now head to the Senate for consideration following the August recess. While the DARK Act is expected to receive substantially less support in the Senate as compared to the House, only time will tell whether Big Food can successfully force-feed this legislation to our Congress and our citizens. While the Obama administration has been largely silent on the issue up to this point, one thing is certain: if the DARK Act ever makes it to the President’s desk, he is sure to get an earful.

Citations:

National GMO Labeling Polls: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/976/ge-food-labeling/us-polls-on-ge-food-labeling

Contributions to House members supporting/opposing HR 1599: http://maplight.org/us-congress/bill/114-hr-1599/7104271/contributions-by-vote.table

Free Press article on UVM study: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2015/07/28/uvm-study-gmo-labeling-may-matter/30801741/

Summer Policy Update

Water Quality

Just before the close of the 2015 session, both chambers of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass H.35 – a bill aimed at improving water quality in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. After much debate among legislators and stakeholders, especially over funding, the bill provides around $7.5 million toward implementation and enforcement of new water quality regulations. Some primary funding sources include a surcharge on the state’s property transfer tax, fees on medium and large farm registrations, and fees on the sale of non-agricultural fertilizer and pesticides. In part, these funds will be used to pay for enhanced education, outreach, enforcement, and inspections by creating 8 new positions at the Agency of Agriculture and 13 at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

While passage of H.35 set the stage for changes to Vermont’s agricultural and stormwater management practices, many details of the clean-up initiative will be fleshed out through a rulemaking process over the coming year. For example, one key provision of the bill calls for the State to develop new regulations for reducing pollution from farms, changing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs) to “required agricultural practices” (RAPs) since they will be mandatory under the new legislation. What exactly those practices will include has yet to be determined. As the State works toward implementation of the law, NOFA will be working to ensure that organic farmers are aware of any new requirements they may face, while also working with State partners to ensure that implementation is as practical and effective as possible.

GMO Labeling Update: David vs. Goliath? Let’s Hope So

The legal battle to uphold Vermont’s GMO labeling law has often been described as a classic David and Goliath-style battle, wherein our small but mighty state is pitted against the gargantuan likes of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). As the legal challenge brought by the GMA and others begins to move through the courts, members of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition are working to ensure that our battle ends with the same happy result as that famed parable.

On April 27th of this year, the first significant blow was dealt to the GMO giants in the form of a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. In the ruling, Judge Christina Reiss soundly rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120), dismissing claims that the law is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. On May 6th, plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision, though a schedule for the next steps has not been set as of this writing.

In the meantime, Act 120 is set to go into effect on July 1st of 2016, giving food producers, distributors, and retailers just over a year to prepare to put GMO labeling into action in the Green Mountain State. For more information and ongoing updates on the GMO show-down, you can visit the website of the VT Right to Know coalition or Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

NOFA-VT in DC: National Organic Coalition (NOC) Annual Meeting June 16-18

From June 16th to 18th of this year, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) will be holding its annual meeting and hill visits in Washington, D.C. NOC, of which NOFA-VT is an active member, is an alliance of organizations working to provide a united voice in Washington for the organic community and to maintain the integrity of organic food and farming nationally. This year, NOC’s annual fly-in will bring national stakeholders together to strategize on key issues like advancing organic integrity, growing domestic organic supply, and preventing genetic contamination on farms. While in DC, I will be meeting with USDA officials and Vermont’s Congressional delegates to discuss current issues that impact Vermont’s organic farmers and eaters. I look forward to thanking our federal representatives for the difficult work they do and will be asking them to continue to stand up for policies that work for Vermont’s organic food and farming community.

Also read: “USDA Accepts Proposals for an Organic Check-Off Program” »

Dr. Vandana Shiva to Speak in VT

vandana_graphic_v5We are thrilled to be welcoming Dr. Vandana Shiva to Vermont for two speaking engagements next week in support of VT’s GMO labeling law.

Her presentation is titled: Food System Transformation and Reversing the Climate Crisis: How Vermont’s GMO labeling law is part of the solution.

Dr. Shiva will speak on Sunday, November 2, 2014, 4:00-6:00PM at the Contois Auditorium in Burlington’s City Hall, 149 Church Street.  This event will be livestreamed at this link beginning at 3:55.

Dr. Shiva will also speak at the Vermont Law School on Monday Nov. 3 at 5:00PM in the Chase Center. This event is sponsored by the VLS Center for Agriculture and Food Systems.

Both events are open to the public, and donations will be welcomed to support the ongoing work of the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition to implement and defend Vermont’s GMO food labeling law. Dr. Shiva’s visit to Vermont is being facilitated and co-sponsored by the Vermont Right to Know GMOs Coalition which is a partnership of Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center, NOFA-VT, Rural Vermont and VPIRG.

A “DARK” Act in Washington

Image from the Environmental Working Group

As Vermont becomes the first state to enact mandatory GMO labeling, those opposed to labeling are hoping to erase our victory with federal legislation. “Friends” of multinational food and biotech corporations in Congress have recently introduced a bill that would authorize the FDA to preempt and invalidate state-level labeling laws in Vermont and across the country. Opponents have dubbed the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. House Committees are expected to begin hearings on the bill this summer.

Also recently introduced are two congressional bills that would require nationwide mandatory at the federal level, along the same lines as Vermont’s labeling law. (We’re glad to report that Vermont’s congressional delegation has already signed on as cosponsors of these bills.) National consumer, agriculture, and environmental groups are busy organizing political action and public awareness campaigns in support of these bills and against the “forces of DARKness”.

It is going to be a hot time in Washington over the next year as these bills progress! We will be working with our members, our national allies, and our congressional delegation to insure that a strong and mandatory labeling law will be enacted nationally.

There are many websites with further information. We recommend Beyond Pesticides for a good overview.

Stay tuned!

[Post by Dave Rogers, NOFA Vermont Policy Advisor]

Gov. Shumlin will sign the GMO bill next week!

VTJoinUsSignedIntoLaw_1We’ve just got word that Governor Shumlin plans to sign H.112, Vermont’s GMO labeling bill, next Thursday, May 8 at 2:30 PM. We’re planning a statehouse lawn celebration – please join us! More details coming soon – follow us on Facebook or Twitter for the latest.

GMO Bill Moves Forward!

Special update from NOFA’s policy advisor, Dave Rogers! Vermont Right to Know! Label GMOs

At 11am today, the VT Senate Judiciary Committee, after several weeks of work, voted 5-0 in favor of our GMO labeling bill. The bill contains no triggers and establishes a special $1.5M fund to cover implementation and legal costs, if necessary. Funds would come from Attorney General office proceeds from other cases and unrestricted donations from individuals, organizations, etc, both instate and out of state.

After a quick trip to the Senate Appropriation Committee to set up the fund, it will move to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass. Timing is uncertain but could be quite soon. Then it will go to the House for either approval of the Senate bill, or to a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.

Then it will go on to the Governor’s desk.  Just before the Judiciary committee voted, one member, a Republican  whose vote was uncertain until the end, said, “Vermont is about to go where no state has gone before.”

So, we are all  quite pleased, but as we know, it ain’t over ’til it’s over! This is a great time to get in touch with your senators and let them know that you expect them to help pass this historic legislation.

Visit the Vermont Right to Know GMOs website to learn more and get involved.