The newly proposed GMO labeling law, while derived with good intentions, is defective.
On July 7, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of a bill, proposed by Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, to require all food and beverage companies to label genetically modified foods, Vox reports.
The bill will allow manufacturers to forgo simple, clear labels in favor of a digital label on the package that, when scanned by a smartphone, produces a list of all genetically engineered ingredients in the product.
This means consumers who do not have access to a smartphone or scanner will be in the dark when it comes to the products they buy.
For this reason, many critics call this bill the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act, or more appropriately, the DARK Act, Eco Watch reports.
Two years ago, Vermont instated a rule that all food and beverage items placed on the state’s grocery store shelves must include a label signifying whether the item contains genetically engineered products, The New York Times reports. Companies were given until Thursday, June 30, 2016 to make necessary accommodations.
One week after the rule went into effect, the Senate’s decision to move forward with a nationwide mandate on electronic scanning labels seems like a slap in the face to Vermont officials who have spent years working to clearly label products for grocery buyers.
“The timing of this legislation is not an accident," Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said in a July 6 press conference, Vermont Business Magazine reports. "Its goal is to overturn and rescind the very significant legislation passed in the state of Vermont. I will do everything that I can to see that it’s defeated.”
Though Vermont’s initiative only impacted one state, its effects were national. Maine, Connecticut and Alaska followed suit by adopting similar labeling rules. Throughout the U.S., consumers recognize their right to know what processes and ingredients have gone into the making of their food.
In the same press conference, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont emphasized that many companies such as Kellogg, General Mills and Mars already use GMO or non-GMO labels because more than 60 countries worldwide mandate simple labeling.
“It can be done," Leahy said. "It should be done ... American consumers want and deserve no less.”
Electronic scanners eliminate the GMO label, rendering a simple yes or no answer inaccessible to anyone without a smartphone or other similar device.
Inaccessibility is not the only flaw in the new proposed labeling law.
The definition of what constitutes a genetically modified food is unclear.
The FDA has stated that some scientifically engineered ingredients, such as the oil made from soybeans, will not need to appear when a barcode is scanned. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said soybean oils will make the list of ingredients, according to The New York Times.
In either case, a simple GMO or non-GMO label seems like a more clear and effective option for the common American consumer who does not know the difference between aspartame, agave and any other GMO or non-GMO ingredient.
Only representatives of the organic industry benefit from the proposed bill.
The new bill states that any food labeled as “organic” may automatically receive the “non-GMO” label, NPR reports. While many organic manufacturers pay large sums of money to the Non-GMO Project to wear the non-GMO label, this bill would eliminate the need to pay for such labels. Therefore, there is reason to believe corporate influence stands behind the Organic Trade Association’s decision to back this bill.
Food should be simple. The proposed bill overcomplicates grocery shopping and denies consumers the right to know what they are purchasing. Perhaps lawmakers should look to Vermont as an example of how to add simplicity and justice to the food buying process.