Paula Condemns Passage of DARK Act; Calls for Clear, Mandatory GMO Food Labeling

Paula Bradshaw, Green Party candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 12th Congressional District, condemns the recent enactment of the DARK Act (S.B. 764), a law that ostensibly creates a national system for labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods but actually contains no effective labeling requirements at all, while outlawing GE food labeling requirements already enacted by Vermont and other states. Incumbent representative Mike Bost, who received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from interest groups supporting the bill, voted in favor of it. (See  http://maplight.org/us-congress/bill/114-s-764/10008265/contributions-by-vote)

Paula supports repealing the DARK Act, enacting a real labeling bill, and allowing states to adopt stricter standards if its people so choose. She calls for an immediate moratorium on the introduction of new GE foods until the human and environmental consequences of our current use of GE foods and companion herbicides has been fully studied and appropriate regulations, based on science, are adopted.

The following is the full text of Paula’s statement:

Late last month, while most of the media were focused on the aftermath of the Democratic National Convention, President Obama signed Senate Bill 764 into law, despite opposition from a national coalition of over 70 consumer, food safety, farm, environmental, and religious groups – and despite strong criticism from one of his own agencies, the Food and Drug Administration.

On its face, S.B. 764 sets a “national bioengineered food disclosure standard,” supposedly intended to inform consumers about genetically engineered (GE) foods by requiring such food to be labeled. In fact, it does the exact opposite, while destroying real food labeling laws already adopted by other states. With a stroke of his pen, Obama nullified the laws of Vermont, Connecticut and Maine that required the labeling of GE foods, GE seed labeling laws in Vermont and Virginia that allowed farmers to choose what seeds they wanted to buy and plant, and Alaska’s law requiring the labeling of any GE fish or fish product, aimed at protecting the state’s vital fisheries from contamination by recently approved genetically engineered salmon. The law will also preempt similar state laws from taking effect. It is an attack on the rights of states to protect the health and well-being of their citizens.

The bill was commonly known among food safety organizations as the DARK Act: Denying Americans the Right to Know. It was not subject to any hearings. No expert testimony was taken. Rather, it was the result of backroom dealing between a few senators and industrial food and biotech companies. Our incumbent representative, Mike Bost, voted for it. This should probably come as no surprise, since Monsanto, other big agribusiness and petrochemical industry corporations and the Grocery Manufacturers Association vigorously lobbied for it, and Bost received over $100,000 in campaign contributions from interest groups supporting the bill.

The law is actually much worse than having no labeling law at all. In addition to its preemption of state law:

●It prescribes no mandatory standards for GE food labeling but instead depends upon a
discretionary process to be determined solely by an as of yet unknown future USDA Secretary – years from now.

● Many GE foods will be exempt from any labeling requirements under the law’s vague and broad definition of “bioengineering.” One of the FDA’s criticisms was that it “may be difficult” for any GE food to qualify for labeling under the law in that it would have to be proven that a GE product’s modification could not be achieved through conventional breeding or be found in nature – something that is nearly impossible to prove  In addition, up to 99 percent of all GE food could be exempt from labeling for a different reason – the law leaves it entirely up to a future USDA Secretary to determine what “amount” of GE ingredients in a food will require labeling.

●The law is discriminatory, as it provides for GE “labeling” through QR codes (“digital”
labeling). Because of their lack of access to smart phones, a majority of rural, low-income
and elderly people will have no access to these labels, and it will have a disproportionate impact on minority populations. At least 100 million Americans will not have access to food information because of this labeling system. The law also allows for labeling through 800 numbers and websites. This means that consumers may only be able to learn about GE ingredients in these products by spending hours in the supermarket calling or searching websites for each and every product they buy. In short, the law does not require actual “labeling” at all – rather, it creates cumbersome barriers to the information consumers are demanding.

● The law provides no civil or criminal penalties whatsoever against those not in compliance with GE labeling requirements. It specifically bars the USDA from ordering any recall of misbranded food, even in cases where a product has been produced with genetic engineering but the corporation involved purposely decides to violate the law and not label.
When an activity raises threats of serious harm to human health or the environment – or, in this case, both – governments have an obligation to exercise caution and bar such activity unless and until it can be proven to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that the activity can be carried out without presenting such a threat. Scientists call this the “precautionary principle.” People with common sense call it, “better safe than sorry.”

Yet when it comes to GE foods and other genetically modified organism, Congress and federal regulatory agencies have completely thrown the precautionary principle aside and allowed companies like Monsanto to develop, release into the environment and mass-market GE foods with no regulatory oversight whatsoever. According to the Center for Food Safety:

“A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to farmers, human health, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Despite these long-term and wide-ranging risks, Congress has yet to pass a single law intended to manage them responsibly. The haphazard and negligent agency regulation of biotechnology has been a disaster for consumers and the environment. Unsuspecting consumers by the tens of millions are purchasing and consuming unlabeled GE foods, despite a finding by U.S. Food & Drug Administration scientists that these foods could pose serious risks.”
(See: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/311/ge-foods for more detailed information.)

The Center estimates that upwards of 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves – from soda to soup, crackers to condiments – contain genetically engineered ingredients. A generation of Americans is being used as guinea pigs, with unknown long-term consequences to human and environmental health.

This is unacceptable. If elected to Congress, I would work to repeal the DARK Act, enact a real labeling bill, and allow states to enact even stricter standards if its people so choose. I would also introduce a bill to impose an immediate moratorium on the introduction of new GE foods until the human and environmental consequences of our current use of GE foods and companion herbicides has been fully studied, and appropriate regulations, based on science, are adopted.

When it comes to GE foods, Congress has failed in one of the most basic obligations of government: To protect the people from harm. It has elevated the interests of private profit over the interests of the people it is supposed to be representing. As a Green Party candidate for Congress, I reject corporate money and corporate lobbyists, and will work hard to turn Congress into a responsible institution, accountable to the people.