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The DARK Act Passes…Now What?

I was traveling through Sicily when I heard the news. What has been dubbed as The DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know) or HR 1599 (Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015) passed with a majority of votes, backed largely by House Republicans. The vote is discouraging: 250-150, not exactly what might be called close.

For those of you unaware of this legislation, the bill seeks to codify a voluntary labeling system, blocking the USDA from ever implementing mandatory GMO food labeling which will allow food companies to continue to make misleading claims on packaging about natural and genetically modified ingredients.

While a Senate version of this bill has yet to be introduced, the message is clear. What Americans want…and what Congress wants are two different things. This bill isn’t only an infringement on states’ rights and local control; it also tells us that our desire to know what’s in our food has fallen on deaf ears when it comes to our leadership.

“It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of 9 out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food.”

More than 300 organizations, companies and food industry and social justice leaders opposed The DARK Act but according to EWG, they went up against massive spending and lobbying by big chemical and food companies. Polls show a large majority of people in key states and across the country support mandatory GMO labeling.

The citizens of 64 other countries know what’s in their food and how it’s grown, but here, in the seat of freedom, not so much.

“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”

More than 30 states introduced legislation to require GM labeling in 2013 and 2014, with laws recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, according to Center for Food Safety.

Is there hope?  Well…

Leading opponent of the bill, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) offered an amendment that if passed would have required that any U.S. company who produces a product in the U.S. be bound by the same labeling requirement held in another country.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment that would have removed everything from the underlying bill with the exception of provisions establishing a non-GMO certification program at USDA.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to specify that the FDA-defined term “natural,” excludes GE foods and ingredients.

An amendment offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) would have ensured that the preemption provisions in the underlying bill do not abdicate the sovereign right of Native American tribes to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GE crops on tribal lands.

An amendment to change the name to the Denying Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) after the final vote.

So while there are voices in government for our cause, these amendments did not pass.

Now what?

Well, we can do what we’ve been doing but with more passion and commitment.

*Buy locally produced and organic foods as much as possible.

*Use whole, unprocessed ingredients to avoid GM ingredients.

*Minimize the use of packaged, processed foods when you can, even “natural” versions as they are more likely to contain GM ingredients.

*Write, email and call companies to ask if their products contain GM ingredients and if they do, let them know that they have lost your business. 

There are people within the movement to label foods containing GM ingredients who say this is not a defeat, but that this movement motivated people to organize and work toward a goal for the common good. All of that is true. We worked together, in harmony toward the goal of mandatory labeling. The Senate has yet to introduce a bill or vote on it so there’s time to lobby them, work hard and hope they have more respect for Americans and their desires than their colleagues in the House.

It is my fondest wish that we do not become jaded, giving up the fight.  That’s exactly what food giants and companies like Monsanto want us to do. They hope we will lose heart, tuck our tails firmly between our legs and crawl off in defeat giving them free reign over our food.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Did we lose this one? Yes and we lost big. But this arrogant move by the House, clearly bowing to the money poured into their coffers by big business may have roused the sleeping giant known as the American people. We will fight on, harder and with more conviction, before we allow any more of our rights to be stripped away by business and its influence over our government.

Remember that pride go-eth before the fall. These elected officials have to contend with us--the people they betrayed--in the voting booths. It’s time we stopped writing letters and signing petitions. It’s time to speak to them in the only language they understand; let’s remove them from their jobs. Maybe then they will realize that the America I know and love was founded on democracy, revolution and grassroots movements that change the way we are governed when it doesn’t serve the needs of the people. 

It’s time to play hardball and let them know that they can’t continue to put their best interests (translation: their bank accounts) ahead of the interests of the people who elected them to work on our behalf. Voting will never mean more than it will in the next few elections. Take note of their names and ‘reward’ their behavior by removing them from their lofty, disconnected positions.

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