On Tuesday, July 14, the House Agriculture Committee approved the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, also known as the “Deny Americans’ Right to Know” or DARK Act by opponents. The passage of the most recent version of the bill gives more authority to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to oversee voluntary non-GMO labeling programs, while continuing to restrict federal and state actions to require labeling of foods containing GMOs and even expanding the scope of its preemptive reach to all state and local-level regulations over the planting of GMO crops. It passed by voice vote.
The bill was cosponsored by 10 of the 45 member House Agriculture Committee, and was re-introduced this year by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS). It has 69 cosponsors to date, with 14 Democrat cosponsors and 55 Republican cosponsors.
The full Agriculture Committee’s Business Meeting on the bill lasted a brief fifteen minutes, with only two members of the committee offering any opposition to the bill.
Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) expressed his concerns with HR 1599 because public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans want to know if their food contain GMOs. He stated that it “makes him nervous that the industry keeps pushing back against labeling” and that, if they’re so safe, we should just label them. He also mentioned the recent classification of glyphosate – the widely-used herbicide in GMO crop production – by the World Health Organization as a probable carcinogen.
Representative McGovern also voiced the need for a uniform labeling standard, but opposes this bill because it advances a national voluntary labeling effort, rather than a mandatory labeling requirement. He believes that the passage of this bill will not put this issue to rest, and constituents around the United States will continue to advocate for a more transparent system for GMO labeling.
Another opponent of the bill was Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY), who stated that the majority of his constituents want a mandatory labeling standard. He noted that states like Vermont have responded to this need for GMO labeling but agrees that a mandatory national standard would be best.
A bill introduced in the House by Representative Peter DeFazio and in the Senate by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) would create such a mandatory national standard for GMO labeling.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee shares jurisdiction with the Agriculture Committee over this bill, but it appears unlikely that they will also markup this bill. The next step would then be a full vote on the floor of the House, possibly as early as next week though specific timing is still under discussion. There is still no companion Senate bill, though Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) has spoken about possibly introducing one.