On July 23, the House of Representatives has passed H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, also known as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act. The final vote was 275 to 150.
A dozen GOP members voted no and 45 Democratic members voted yes. Among conservative “blue dog” Democratic caucus, 12 of 15 voted for the bill. Within the Congressional Black Caucus, 20 of 43 voted for the bill.
This bill, re-introduced this year by Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS), moved swiftly through the House, after approval by the House Agriculture Committee last week. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, which shares jurisdiction over the legislation, declined to mark up the bill.
The bill preempts existing state mandatory labeling laws, such as the labeling law passed in Vermont, from taking effect. It also establishes a national, voluntary non-GMO certification program through the Agriculture Marketing Service of the USDA.
There were several amendments to the bill, none of which passed:
- Representative Jard Huffman (D-CA) offered an amendment that would have added language to the legislation to ensure tribal sovereignty to ban or restrict GMO cultivation. This amendment had the closest vote, but still failed at 196 to 227.
- Representative Rosa DeLauro’s (D-CT) amendment to prohibit the usage of the phrase “natural” on foods containing genetically engineered ingredients failed with a 163 to 262 vote.
- The House struck down, 123-303, the amendment offered by Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would have required U.S. food companies who label their GMO-containing products in other countries to do the same for U.S. consumers purchasing the same product.
- And finally, the amendment offered by Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jared Polis (D-CO), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would have eliminated the majority of the bill and left only the USDA non-GMO certification program element of the legislation, failed on a voice vote by the House.
Supporters of this bill claim it will eliminate the “patch-work” scenario of GMO labeling laws. If the seed, chemical, and food industry is truly concerned about the patchwork state-by-state approach, then it is unclear why supporters of this bill would not support a uniform federal standard for GMO labeling. A bill to do just that, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter DeFazio, has languished without even being considered by the relevant committees. Clearly, the House vote today is more about serving the interests of the food industry than it is about providing transparency to consumers and clearing up confusion in the marketplace.
The approval of the DARK Act comes at a time when there is overwhelming bipartisan support for GMO labeling across the country. NSAC continues to advocate for a system where the consumers’ right to know is protected, together with the economic viability and environmental sustainability of our nation’s agriculture and rural communities.
Following the approval of the DARK Act by the House, attention turns to see if the Senate takes interest in acting on the issue. As of now, there is no companion bill in the Senate, and no indication that the issue will be on the Senate’s agenda this fall. With the House vote behind them, however, proponents are likely to look for chances to attach their corporate interest bill to other must pass legislation in an attempt to force it onto the Senate’s agenda.