The Force vs. the DARK Act
I recently saw a post about the DARK Act and what caught my attention was a photo of the two main ballplayers, Congressmen Mike Pompeo and G.K. Butterfield in Star Wars garb. As you may recall, the Jedi were a class of warriors who relied on the “Force” to bring truth and light to the social order. The “Force” is described as an omnipresent energy that binds all living things with everything else in the universe. The plot reveals that Darth Vader, representing the evil forces in nature, was in fact a Jedi who succumbed to the “Dark Side.” Fortunately, our hero Luke Skywalker makes use of a light gun representing the “Force” to battle the “Dark Side” and in the end good triumphs over evil in a screen-gripping, fast moving, intergalactic movie-blockbuster manner.
What does this have to do with the food industry? Perhaps the “Dark Side” is symbolic of the stress present in the today's world —stress which can cloud the perception of decision makers, world leaders, and private citizens alike resulting in harmful legislation not in favor of environmental protection, good health, and the purity of the food supply.
Enter the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act affectionately known as the Deny Americans Right to Know (DARK) Act. Disappointingly crafted after more than twenty years of GMO opposition by scientists, religious leaders, health practitioners, manufacturers, farmers, and consumers alike, sources say that the DARK Act will block all state GMO labeling laws and pre-empt GMO labeling laws already passed in victorious states such as Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut as well as pending legislation in more than 20 other states. A senior policy analyst recently commented that the bill would make it harder for the FDA to require mandatory national labeling of GMOs. This means that the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, confusingly titled in a consumer friendly manner, calls for voluntary labeling rather than mandatory labeling, opening the door for the conventional and natural food industry to “slip through” or “bypass” mandatory GMO labeling requirements.
Although the approval for manufacturers to label GMO ingredients has been in place since 2001, the U.S. conventional food industry has not stepped up to embrace ingredient transparency. This is despite the fact that countries in Europe have been taking a clear stand on GMO's and labeling for quite some time. The new version of the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 is supported by industry greats and national farm groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the Snack Food Association, and the American Grocers Association. Perhaps greater “inside the industry education” is needed on the topic.
On the other side of the fence stands the Environmental Working Group, state and federal labeling initiatives such as Just Label It, the organic food industry and their regulatory agencies, esteemed scientists, school children, and massive numbers of concerned consumers, who have worked hard and long for statewide mandatory labeling victories.
All Natural Foods and GMOs
The debate also brings the issue of “natural foods” to the forefront. Most consumers may not realize that many natural food companies who have not yet taken steps to become certified organic have opted for non-GMO labeling based on supply chain verification. However, there are large numbers of foods labeled as “all natural” or “made with natural foods,” which are not GMO verified and which may contain harmful ingredients not allowed by organic certification standards. Even the organic label can be confusing to consumers, requiring a very keen ability to discern between 100% certified organic, certified organic, 70% organic, and made with organic. Then there are natural foods with perhaps only one or two organic ingredients with an even more confusing label. In this case there may be a grey area with regard to GMOs for products which have the world “organic” somewhere on the package. Advanced consumer education and strict labeling seem to be the answer.
In the midst of the DARK Act debate, Environmental Working Group senior vice president Scott Faber pointed out that current legislation allows “natural foods” to contain GMOs saying “If we lived in a world where consumers perfectly understood what natural, non-GMO, and organic claims meant, a voluntary (labeling) system might make sense. We don't live in that world. We live in a world where consumers are extraordinarily confused about what they are buying at the point of sale.” If natural foods can contain GMO ingredients under current regulations, this is an important reason for improving food labeling in all categories and for choosing at all costs, 100% certified organic.
Add to these concerns the fact that the majority of the world’s population are likely to be mindless buyers, who do not pay attention to the ingredients or quality of their food choices and who are devoid of insights regarding the connection between their food choices, their health, and the environment. This fact alone has given strength to the conventional non-labeled hazardous ingredients widely used in foods manufactured today.
Pompeo and his colleagues seem to fear that mandatory labeling, especially in the conventional food categories, will be so massive that it will result in higher food costs for stores and consumers alike. Conversely, organic consumers have been faced with escalating food prices for years and surveyed organic shoppers say that they simply close their eyes, grit their teeth, fill their shopping carts, and accept the higher cash register totals for the sake of protecting their family's health by choosing pure, safe food.
The question remains: Will one federally enforced labeling act benefit consumers and the food industry or will it act as a catalyst to railroad through a set of laws that allow conventional food manufacturers to sneak by or close their eyes to the much needed and as yet non-enforced requirements for healthy food consumption? Tom Dempsey, president and CEO of the Snack Food Association, seems to feel that the number of products containing GE ingredients is so numerous, that the current policy of only labeling organic products should “reign supreme” rather than trying to label the majority of non-organic products available in the market place. Buyers beware! The shelves are filled with unmarked GMOs and other harmful ingredients.
GMO opponents who are most often the mandatory GMO labeling supporters assert that the technology inherent in GMO production is toxic to the environment as well as human life. In a report from Environmental Science Europe, over 300 scientists confirmed that there is no consensus as to the safety of GMOs. A recent report from the World Health Organization listed Monsanto's best selling herbicide glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, while leading environmentalists continue to look to GMOs as a threat to the existence of monarch butterflies and the biodiversity of the eco-system.
What You Can Do
Non-supporters of the DARK Act encourage everyone supporting GMO labeling efforts to contact their Congressional leaders as soon as possible, with a reference to the Just Label It website. If you care about GMOs being labeled now and forever, or if you would like to see GMOs banned from the food and agricultural supply chain, it is possible to take immediate action to tell Congress that you support federally mandated GMO labeling by filling out the JLI form and sharing the link with friends, family members, social media partners, clients, and customers.
Making use of power of the “Force” by taking action to protect food purity in a world shrouded by the “Dark Side,” should be possible with consumer educational outreach, maintenance of strict organic standards, and cooperative effort. Now is the time to make your voice heard to bring the return of an era where product purity is not being compromised and where safe healthy food choices are the absolute norm. This is the minimal standard for the well-being of the population and the planet. Removing the “Dark Side” i.e. the individual and collective stress from the atmosphere which can cloud the perception of those individuals most responsible for food, health, and environmental legislation is another important step which can assist in creating a brighter future for organics and a fully sustainable world.
Simi Summer, Ph.D. is an organic advocate, independent researcher, educator, and freelance writer. She is a strong proponent of organic consumer education and informed consumer choices.
The DARK Act Threatens GMO Right-To-Know.(February 2015). Retrieved from http://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/gmo-dark-act-update
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Chase, S. House Members Debate need for national GMO labeling standards. (December 2014). Retrieved from http://www.agri-pulse.com/House-members-debate-need-for-national-GMOlabeling-standards-12112014
Gillam, C. U.S. foods labeled 'natural' often contain GMOs, group reports. (October 2014). Retrieved from www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/07/us-usa-gmo-labelingidUSKCN0HW0R520141007
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