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What’s in a Label, part 2

Whatever the outcome of the FDA’s call for public comment on the “natural” label, I can’t help but get all gushy and patriotic whenever I witness those kinds of shamelessly, garishly democratic practices in our country.

The other, proverbial shoe had to drop.

Yep, hiding in the hallowed halls of Congress, an evil little house-approved bill has been malingering since late July in the Senate Agriculture committee, waiting for its moment to sneak into law. Why evil? Because it is anti-democratic. The ironically titled “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015” (cleverly nicknamed the Deny America the Right to Know, or DARK Act by opposition groups) would prohibit states from passing laws requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods. It would also invalidate GMO-free farming zones such as those established in Oregon. Prohibiting states’ rights, you say? Surely, the majority of small-government conservatives would be opposed to such legislation. Well, 230 of the 245 Republicans in the House voted in favor of HR 1599. I’m not going to spend my quality blogging time researching how those Republicans feel about states restricting access to voting or birth control. You have at it if you’re up for it; I’ll just assume that there’s some hypocrisy there.

This is not an issue of excessive labeling. It’s not comparable to putting “warning: contains peanuts” on a jar of peanut butter. There is currently no way for an American shopper to look at a label and determine whether ingredients have been genetically modified. Foods certified Organic by the USDA cannot contain any GM ingredients, but anything else, including fresh fruits and vegetables, might. If GM foods were clearly labeled, farmers and producers like those at Main Street Project could distinguish themselves by the label’s absence, and anyone who wants their food cutting-edge and lab-crafted would have the option of choosing products that are genetically modified. Everybody wins.

Many states have attempted to get direct voter approval of mandatory GM labeling, but most have been crushed by corporate-funded opposition ads. California’s Proposition 37 barely failed in 2012, overwhelmed by the $46 million spent to defeat it ($8.1 million from Monsanto alone). But this hasn’t stopped other states from trying, and a few from succeeding.

In fact, this recent push to federally gag the issue may have been prompted by Connecticut, of all, tiny places. In an apparent response to opposition claims that state-specific labeling laws would just be too wacky, confusing, and expensive for manufacturers, Connecticut’s 2013 law goes into effect only once the following events happen:

  • At least four other states approve GMO labeling
  • The combined population of those states equals at least 20 million
  • At least one of those states borders Connecticut

If Massachusetts and New York stay on the path of legislating GM labeling in 2016, all of the provisions would be fulfilled. And suddenly we’ve got a trend on our hands.

CEO Hugh Grant admits that Monsanto is opposed to state labeling laws, but says it welcomes federal legislation. However, in an interview on CBS This Morning, he failed to define what legislation it favors. Given their funding history, I can only assume the DARK act is just the kind of law Monsanto can, does, and will support in the Senate.

I can sympathize with the implication that Americans are illogical, spontaneous, and emotional shoppers: that we’ll presume any new item on a label is something to fear or seek out. But here’s the thing – we’re allowed to be emotional, irrational, and hypocritical with our food choices. That’s our private bizniz. What we should not be is federally “protected” from knowing the sources and methods that produce our food. A lobbying effort recently failed to get the SAFE/DARK act attached to the 2015 spending bill, and Campbell’s Soup just last week switched sides and publicly endorsed federal legislation that requires labeling. Good news on several fronts, but we’re keeping our eye on this one.

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