In July, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 1599, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” also known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act by a vote of 275-150. But the legislation will have a much tougher time passing in the Senate, according to Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs at the Center for Food Safety.
“If you look at House vote on H.R. 1599, the majority of Democrats voted against it,” O’Neil says. “This sends a message that Democrats are widely opposed to the act.”
H.R. 1599 would preempt state labeling laws and prevent the US Food and Drug Administration from enacting mandatory GMO labeling, and establish a voluntary system for labeling foods as non-GMO.
O’Neil points out that some Democratic members of the House Agriculture Committee voted for the bill as well as some members of the Congressional Hispanic and Black caucuses. But he said the latter groups were misled into thinking that GMO labeling would raise food prices.
According to media reports, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven plans to introduce the Senate version of the DARK Act and is looking for a Democratic co-sponsor for the bill. However, O’Neil says: “Hoeven has a stated goal that he won’t introduce the bill without a Democratic co-sponsor. A number of Senate Democrats have said they won’t be co-lead.”
If Senator Richard Blumenthal’s position on the DARK Act is any indication, the legislation won’t pass the Senate. The Connecticut Democrat recently told the West Hartford News: “We will drive a stake through the heart of the DARK Act.”
If Democratic support is lacking, GMO supporters could try to attach the DARK Act as a “rider” to another bill as a way to sneak it through the Senate.
The website, GovTrack.us, which tracks government legislation, gives the DARK Act a 30% chance of becoming law. Even if the bill passes the Senate, there is no guarantee President Obama will sign it. In 2007, then candidate Obama promised to require labeling of GM foods if he became president; a lot of labeling supporters will remind him of that fact if the DARK Act reaches his desk.
O’Neil says the growing food movement has rallied around the fight over GMO labeling. Groups such as the Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, the Organic Consumers Association, the Sierra Club, and National Farmers Union are a few of the groups trying to stop legislation that would ban GMO labeling.
“Over 300 companies and organizations are on record to oppose the DARK Act,” O’Neil says. “We are confident that senators will see this broad opposition and recognize that this controversial bill will have far reaching damaging effects to consumer rights and state rights.”
However, supporters of the DARK Act are lobbying heavily to pass a bill in the Senate.
“Big Food lobbyists have been out in full force since the act was introduced in the House,” O’Neil says. “But most people thought that the true fight and debate would happen in the Senate.”
What’s needed to stop the DARK Act in the Senate? “A massive outcry by the public and the food movement,” O’Neil says. “It’s clear that the food movement isn’t giving up until they have the right to know if their food is produced with genetic engineering.”