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US Senate overrides stringent GMO labelling

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The US Senate has, with 63 votes to 30, voted for a law prescribing standard labelling nationwide for genetically modified foods. This means that the stricter labelling rules of individual states like Vermont are nullified. At the same time, the law makes it possible for the food industry to obscure the use of genetically modified ingredients. Consumer protection organisations are furious and accuse the big organic corporations in the USA of treachery because they supported this law. Their last hope is the House of Representatives that must still approve the legislation.

The labelling law was proposed by the senators Debbie Stabenow from the Democrats and Pat Roberts from the Republicans. Critics of genetic engineering dubbed the draft bill the DARK Act: Deny Americans the Right to Know. It makes it possible for food manufacturers to choose from three possibilities for declaring genetically modified ingredients: they can state them on the packaging; they can refer to a telephone number or a website where people can get more information; or they can print a so-called QR-Code on the packaging that enables smartphone users to access information on the internet.

“The law discriminates against people with low incomes, older people and those living in the countryside. It denies them the right to know what they are eating simply because they don't have access to smartphones or can't afford them,“ is the criticism of Andrew Kimbrell, managing director of the consumer organisation Center of Food Safety. He also objects to the fact that the text of the law excludes many genetically modified ingredients from mandatory labelling. As recently as March the bill failed narrowly when the first vote was taken. The draft bill was subsequently amended. “Behind closed doors, it was written by a handful of senators and the big chemical and food corporations,“ Kimbrell complains.

Ronnie Cummins from the Organic Consumers Association writes that representatives of the big organic firms and organisations in the USA were present when this backroom deal was struck. He gives names: Walter Robb, the CEO of Whole Foods Market, Gary Hirschberg, managing director of Stonyfield Farm, the organic wholesaler UNFI and the organic umbrella organisation OTA (Organic Trade Association), including its chairwoman Melissa Hughes from Organic Valley. Cummins argues that OTA's lobbying alone persuaded 7 to 10 senators to vote for the DARK Act, and he speaks of organic traitors.

OTA does in fact praise the law and applauds the people behind it. And one of the reasons is that, unlike other proposals, it contains no mandatory GMO-free labelling on conventional products. OTA writes: “The law has confirmed organic as the original GMO-free brand.“

(Contribution also appeared at


Genetic Engineering

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