Few issues have loomed as large lately as GMOs and the fight over whether to label. While states like Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut passed bills requiring labels for foods made with GMOs, an anti-labeling bill — the so-called "DARK Act," which would prevent mandatory labeling on a state level and instead set national standards for voluntary labeling — was introduced to Congress. Despite public support for labeling — celebrity chef and Greenmarket guru Tom Colicchio got more than 4,000 fellow chefs to support his petition — the momentum seemed to be against it. Today, after much anticipation, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts’s bill went up for vote. Though the House of Representatives had passed its own version of the bill, the Senate declined to follow suit and voted against it:
If the measure had passed, it would’ve sneaked in for the win right before Vermont became the first state to impose mandatory labeling of GMOs. It didn’t, though, which, depending on your perspective, is either a great victory for transparency or an unfortunate loss for science. Certainly food activist and pro-labeler Michael Pollan will be thrilled and bump fists with whoever tells him the news. In a recent interview with Grub street, the author-activist said, "The public has made it known that they would like to have labels so they can decide for whatever reason, good or bad, well-informed or poorly informed, that they don’t or want to eat this."
Certain legislators opposed the bill outright #&0151; organic farmer Senator Jon Tester unsurprisingly tells the New York Times it’s "bad, bad, bad policy" — and some Democrats opposed it in favor of creating mandatory labeling that gives manufacturers different options for presenting the information.
The act shouldn’t be considered dead in the water, though, as it’s not without support, and food and biotech companies are clearly invested in its success, having spent hundreds of millions of dollars combating mandatory labeling. Those who supported the bill argued that it will be costly for food producers to deal with either a myriad of different state labeling laws or a simpler nationwide labeling system — and that consumers will suffer as a result. The Corn Refiners Association put out a study, for example, that claims that nationwide labeling will spike families’ individual grocery bills by $1,000 a year, and anti-labeling senators echo these claims.
There’s an argument to be made against mandatory labeling for more than just fiscal reasons, though. New York’s Science of Us argued that mandatory GMO labeling will create confusion, misleading consumers into thinking that GMO ingredients are harmful or the foods containing them are unsafe even though GMO foods have been proven to be safe. As another lawmaker, Senator Thom Tillis, put it to the Times, "we must not demonize food with unnecessary labels." It’s unlikely that the anti-labeling legislators and biotech companies will go down without a fight.