It’s Time for Transparency: The Consumer Has Been Heard!

Right to KnowThese past few days have been amazing! Years of work fighting for transparency in our food culminated in several very significant wins.  First, the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know) was defeated in the Senate and then one of the U.S.’s largest food companies, General Mills, and several others announced that they are going to label genetically modified ingredients in all their products sold in the U.S. For all of you who care about this issue, those who have dialed and called, written and tweeted for transparency, this is your week of accomplishment.

It is largely thanks to the work of ardent consumers like you and me who spoke up most recently to our senators on the Pat Roberts bill SB2609. This DARK bill would have made a national standard of voluntary labeling that would have preempted states’ rights to pass or enact labeling laws. The big push was mainly in response to the Vermont bill which requires mandatory labeling and is set to go into effect in July.

The vote was set for a Wednesday, and I had made my calls and written my blogs, and so I just waited for the news. I didn’t even have the heart to watch C-Span. The bill was defeated by a slim margin, but indeed, it went down. I am so grateful for the leadership of our champions in the Senate, including Sens. Stabenow, Merkley, Tester, Boxer, and Leahy. It would behoove us all to reach out to everyone who voted nay and give them big thanks! You can view the entire roll call here.*

The Hagstrom Report noted the defeat’s significance when it wrote “The failure to get the 60 votes to invoke cloture on a bill that would ban state labeling laws and set up a voluntary federal system is the most dramatic defeat for the American agricultural establishment in decades. Almost all agricultural groups except the organic industry favored it, and last week even the National Farmers Union, which had favored mandatory labeling, switched to voluntary, although with a lot of dissent.”

Those are mighty words and reflect the power of the consumer’s voice!

While the notion of preempting states’ rights to label GMO’s is not dead, it is likely to have been postponed. We can rest assured that Big Ag and Big Food will be up to more shenanigans and craft another DARK version after the spring recess. So the war isn’t over with this battle won.

Meanwhile, there were several members of the Big Food community that saw the light last week. General Mills announced it would join Campbell Soup Company and label genetically engineered ingredients in all of their products in the U.S. General Mills indicated that they made the change in order to meet Vermont’s July 1 implementation deadline and would not produce different labels for different states. So now Betty Crocker, Cheerios, and Pillsbury will come clean thanks to Vermont’s push. This week Kellogg and Mars announced  that they too will label their products as “Produced with Genetic Engineering” by the end of April. Even ConAgra has announced they will label for GMO’s nationwide!

I see all this as a move to align with the will of the consumer. Polls repeatedly show that around 80 percent of consumers want to know about GMO presence and be able to make an informed choice. I think that now all the CEO’s of all food companies should read the tea leaves after GM, Kellogg, Mars and Campbell’s decision. Despite the over $500 MM that companies have spent lobbying for the Dark Act, it is simply not acting in their shareholders’ and consumers’ interest. The paradigm must shift.  I believe it is now a matter of when, not whether we will have national mandatory labeling.

So this week we celebrate the winning of several skirmishes, but we understand the campaign is not over. We know there will be more to come in the months leading up to Vermont’s July 1st date. For the meantime, EWG has made it easy to thank General Mills for their decision. You can then reach out to all the senators who voted “nay” on the Senate DARK Act by calling the main switchboard 202 224 3121. A big round of gratitude and thanks are in order.

Which company is next? Let the will of the consumer prevail.

*While this links to a bill to defund Planned Parenthood the Senate took up a House bill, struck all the language and then replaced it with Robert’s anti-GMO language. This is a procedural move to block Democrats from wasting floor time on debate.

 

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