The DARK Act (the Deny Americans the Right to Know or, officially and duplicitously known as The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act of 2015) is back. It’s an industry backed bill, of course, one which I wrote about in August 2015. The basics of it are that no state would have the right to enact a bill that would force companies to label their products if they contain GMOs, and would also allow them to claim their product was “all natural” even if is made up of genetically altered ingredients. It has now crawled out of the mud that is the Senate Agriculture Committee and will soon be up for a vote in the Senate. The Ag Committee members, in a 14-6 vote, appear to have fallen victim to either the vast amount of money spent by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to lobby against mandatory labels at the state and federal level or the lies told by the GMA and the Corn Refiners Association concerning the negative impact that such labeling would have on consumers.
The GMA argues that such a law would “increase food costs for families across the nation by an average of $1,050 a year.” In fact, corporations have built into their budgets funds for just such front-of-package labeling because they make changes all the time for various reasons. And in Brazil, where foods containing GMOs have been branded with a “transgenic” symbol since 2001, no rise in prices has occurred. The other 63 countries around the world who label GMO foods have also not seen an increase in prices. Indeed, a USDA study, which is blocked by a paywall, conducted in 2011 found that “labeling has negligible effects on consumer choice or on GM differentiation costs.”
The GMA nevertheless continues to dredge up the same arguments they used 30 years ago when fighting the now familiar Nutrition Facts Panel found on the backs of all processed foods. They claimed then that changing labels would increase food prices. A recent statement issued by Denise Morrison, Campbell’s chief executive, however, contradicted that claim by saying that the Nutrition Facts Panel did not increase the cost of food. Campbell’s incidentally, has also become the first major food company to disclose the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in its products. Denise Morrison has also issued statements calling for a federally mandated labeling system of GMO foods.
All of this, of course, is in response to consumer demand. The majority of Americans want to know what’s in their food even if they continue to purchase foods containing GMOs. The USDA 2011 study, aside from concluding that food prices would not increase because of GMO labeling provisions, also found that the mere presence of a GMO label did not necessarily increase consumer concern. The study found that “most consumers make hasty decisions in the grocery store and look only for one or two attributes – like price or calories.”
Another argument that has been made by the Corn Refiners Association is that any reformulations of foods to replace GM ingredients would increase food costs. When General Mills altered the ingredients in Cheerios in order to eliminate any genetically modified organisms, no increase in cost occurred. The Corn Refiners also warned that banning trans fat from foods would be costly, when in fact, for better or worse, most companies made the shift to using palm oil at no added cost.
If Campbell’s believes that GMO labeling is a sound and cost-effective business decision, the question arises as to why the major lobbying groups for the industry vehemently continue to oppose mandatory labeling laws. I suspect it has quite a lot to do with the fact that Big Ag has control over the federal government and simply doesn’t want any interference. And with money from corporations increasingly determining the outcome of elections, it’s difficult to see consequences beneficial to the health and well being of American citizens. In August of 2015, I concluded the DARK Act was not a danger. The Senate would be unlikely to pass it and even if they did Obama would veto the bill. Now, however, the political climate is so entirely unpredictable my concern has increased. The almost inevitable possibility that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for the President of the United States throws a huge wrench into conventional thinking. Ironically, Trump is the only Republican candidate who has not come out in favor of a federal mandate concerning GMO labeling. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both support a states right to enact laws as they see fit.
Eventually, most if not all major food companies will bow to consumer demand and either label products that contain GMOs or eliminate them altogether. Carl’s Jr. now has three burgers that are GMO free. Campbell’s, as stated, has begun the process of labeling their products. Kroger and Safeway are quietly pushing for mandatory labeling laws, and Whole Foods doesn’t allow any product in their stores without a GMO label. General Mills altered their iconic Cheerios recipe to satisfy consumer demand, and the list of companies moving in that direction is growing. Even should the industry prevail with passage of the DARK Act, consumer demand will ultimately force transparency and continue to shape corporate decisions.
I’ve been writing this blog for almost five years on a weekly basis, missing one or two here and there. I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed writing. I’m taking a break because of a new job and will try to resume in the near future.