New DARK Act Would Keep American Consumers on Hold

The new version of the DARK Act introduced by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) would allow companies to voluntarily rely on toll-free numbers and websites instead of labels to inform American consumers whether their food was produced with genetic engineering.

Under the Roberts proposal, food companies, which have spent more than $100 million fighting mandatory labeling of food with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, would be allowed to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs for three years.

If the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that fewer than 70 percent of the “most frequently consumed” packaged foods lacked clear means of disclosure, it could in theory require a mandatory solution – such as mandatory toll-free numbers or websites. But, the test envisioned in the Roberts bill could be easily met by simply including a “may contain” GMOs statement on company websites.

In other words, the “test” is designed to ensure that food companies pass.

Even if the USDA chose to require a mandatory solution, it would not be in place for more than five years. In the meantime, stronger state measures such as Vermont’s GMO labeling law would be preempted.

Americans want to know everything about their food -- including what’s in it and how it was produced. This is a trend that should be encouraged, not frustrated, because food and farming have enormous impacts on our health and on the environment. Congress has encouraged consumer interest in food by requiring many food disclosures – ranging from the amount of fat, sugar and salt to whether juice was made from concentrate.

Yet tomorrow, the Senate may take a step backward by denying people the right to know about the presence of GMOs. Under the Roberts version of the bill we call the Deny Americans the Right Know, or DARK Act, people would have to call a different toll-free number or scan a different website for each and every product – and there’s no guarantee GMO information would even be provided. It’s ridiculous to expect the American people to wait on hold in grocery aisles or to fumble through websites on mobile phones to find out what’s in their food.

But that’s exactly what the new version of the DARK Act contemplates, even though nine out of ten Americans consistently tell pollsters they want the right to know and want an on-package disclosure.

Why are food companies fighting our right to know?

Food prices did not increase in the 64 other countries with GMO labeling. People in those nations, which include Russia, China and Brazil, view GMO labels simply as more information -- not a warning.

Studies show that American consumers will not respond to GMO labels by rejecting GMO food or by demanding a fully non-GMO supply chain that would increase food prices.

Shockingly, some food and farm organizations wrongly assume (or fear) that Americans aren’t smart enough to make their own food choices.

Tomorrow, the Senate should trust Americans to do their homework and let them – even encourage them -- to consider the consequences of their food choices. The Senate should reject the DARK Act.

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