The U.S. Senate on Wednesday rejected a controversial bill that would have made labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food products voluntary. The bill needed 60 votes to pass and only received 44. Opponents of the bill have referred to it as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act and warned that it would favor corporations over consumers, who widely support labeling GMOs.
"Today, the Senate did the right thing," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "People want to know if the food they buy contains GMO ingredients. It’s time for Congress to create a mandatory on-package labeling requirement so people can decide for themselves whether they want to eat a food that has been produced using genetic engineering."
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said the vote was a "major victory for the food movement and America’s right to know."
"It also is an important victory for Democracy over the attempt of corporate interests to keep Americans in the dark about the foods they buy and feed their families," Kimbrell said.
Had the legislation passed, it would have preempted states from enacting their own GMO labeling requirements. Vermont is poised to put just such a law into effect in July.
Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, said he was "pleased that Congress stood up to the demands of Monsanto and other multi-national food industry corporations and rejected this outrageous bill. Today’s vote was a victory for the American people over corporate interests."
"All over this country, people are becoming more conscious about the food they eat and the food they serve their kids. When parents go to the store and purchase food for their children, they have a right to know what they are feeding them. GMO labeling exists in 64 other countries. There is no reason it can’t exist here," Sanders said.
Similar legislation passed the House of Representatives last summer. The latest version, introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and backed by biotechnology companies like Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow, would have made GMO labeling voluntary and blocked pending state laws that require such standards from being implemented.
The Consumers Union on Tuesday sent an open letter to senators urging them to vote down the bill, noting that it goes against numerous polls showing that 90 percent of Americans support mandatory GMO labeling.
"Consumers have overwhelmingly said that they want [GMO] food to be labeled as such, and states have begun to respond to their requests," the letter states. "The Senate should not disregard these views by eliminating state laws relating to [GMO] food labeling and failing to replace them with a meaningful national standard for mandatory, on-package labeling."
Opponents of the DARK Act also included celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who serves as co-founder and board member of Food Policy Action, who wrote in an op-ed for The Hill on Wednesday:
"Consumers want to know everything about their food—including who made it, what’s in it and how it was produced. This is a trend that should be encouraged by policymakers as food and farming have enormous impacts on our health and on the health of our environment.
"[....] It’s ridiculous to expect the American people to wait on hold to find out what’s in their food. But, that exactly what the new version of the DARK act contemplates—even though nine out of ten consumers consistently tell us they want the right to know."
The DARK Act is "a step backward" for growing consumer interest in food issues and support for organic, ethical farming, Colicchio wrote.
As Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter wrote in a blog post for EcoWatch on Tuesday:
"The majority of Americans, more than 90 percent in many polls, favor GMO labeling. The long-term effects of GMOs are not known, so it only makes sense that consumers should have the option to avoid them if they so choose. Instead, the DARK Act would strip away the power of the states to protect the public’s right to know what is in their food."
The bill "sets up a complicated and unrealistic process for allowing companies to use voluntary labeling, QR codes, (800) numbers, or social media to avoid putting simple information about GMO ingredients on food packages," Hauter wrote.
Jean Halloran, Consumers Union director of food policy initiatives, also noted that "there's little likelihood that this bill will result in GMO labeling in the way consumers think of it and the way numerous surveys show that they want it: on the package."
"Consumers just want to know what’s in their food," Halloran said. "Manufacturers and Congress shouldn’t make them jump through hoops to get that information."
If passed, it would have come at a particularly bad time for states like Vermont, whose own mandatory GMO labeling law is poised to take effect in July.