Philadelphians, like people across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, want to make good decisions about the food we eat and feed to our families. Accurate food labels are critical sources of information that allow us to make informed choices.
In 2008, I introduced and passed legislation that required chain restaurants and retail food establishments to make available certain nutrition information for food and beverage items offered for sale. This legislation, known as the “Menu Labeling” bill, has been heralded as one of the most aggressive consumer bills of its kind, and became the blueprint for the Obama administration’s FDA regulations. Consumers deserve more, not less information. When parents are selecting which food items to purchase, they deserve to have all the information necessary to make good healthy choices for their children and families.
When making these decisions, one thing consumers want to know is whether their food comes from genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients. GMO foods have been changed by taking genetic material from one species and inserting it into another, or by altering a crop’s DNA in a way that could never happen through traditional breeding. The approval process for new GMO foods in the U.S. is extremely weak, relying on safety tests conducted by the corporations that are creating them.
But a dangerous bill that has already passed the House of Representatives and was recently passed out of committee in the Senate would deny states the power to label GMOs. The so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” more aptly known as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act,” should raise big alarms for Senators Casey and Toomey.
The Senate version of the DARK Act would prevent states and local governments from passing laws to label GMOs, effectively stripping the power from states that want their residents to know whether the foods they buy contain GMOs.
Labeling controversial GMO foods is not a novel idea. Europe, Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Russia are among at least 60 countries that require some labeling on GMO foods. Three U.S. states have already passed laws requiring GMO labeling and Vermont’s mandatory labeling law will go into effect this summer.
We all deserve access to information that helps us make good decisions about our food. But this bill would make it illegal for states to pass their own common sense mandatory labeling laws. Things as simple as juice from concentrate is labeled, and people should have the ability to be discerning about the food they are buying and know how it is made and where it comes from. A 2013 New York Times poll of U.S. consumers found that 93 percent of respondents were in favor of a mandatory label for genetically engineered food. This is not unlike our findings during our 2008 “Menu Labeling” legislation. When consumers have better information, they make more informed decisions.
But sadly, many policymakers seem uninterested in what the public wants. And, Big Ag and the biotech industry remain tenacious when it comes to keeping consumers in the dark. Lobbyists for groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the interests of corporations like Dow, Nestlé and Monsanto are working nonstop to block GMO labeling. The amount of money behind these shady efforts is staggering: The Grocery Manufacturers Association has already spent over $80 million to block mandatory GMO labeling in multiple states.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives already caved to these moneyed interests by passing the DARK Act in July. Now it’s up to the Senate to stop this dangerous bill. Pennsylvania’s Senators could be deciding votes. Earlier this month, I introduced and helped pass Philadelphia City Council Resolution No. 150712 opposing the DARK Act.
Knowledge is power. When consumers know what is in their food, they make better choices for their family and the planet. Congress should not block efforts by the states to label GMOs. Senators Casey and Toomey should reject the DARK Act to defend Pennsylvanians’ right to know what’s in the food we eat and feed our families. Your leadership is required on this important consumer issue.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown is currently serving her fifth term as a member of Philadelphia City Council.