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  • Briana Lyman

SAFE vs. DARK: The GMO Debate

On March 16, 2016, the United States Senate rejected the genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeling bill called, Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (S. 1609). Stigma surrounding GMOs have been very controversial, leading consumers to question whether they really know what is in their food products. The S. 2609 is sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), and would create a voluntary system for corporations to label GMO products. The US Department of Agriculture would regulate the labeling process and ultimately stop states from carrying out their own labeling requirements.

This is a hotly debated issue over consumer and corporation rights. S. 1609 would have overturned the state of Vermont’s legislation requiring corporations to label their GMO food products, which was promoted by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Presidential Democratic hopeful, Bernie Sanders. Sanders greatly supported Americans knowing “what is in the food they’re eating and whether that food is genetically engineered,” deeming it a fundamental right as consumers. Those supporting mandatory labeling cite that 90% of Americans agree that GMO products should be labeled, and felt the SAFE bill should rather be called the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK). This has been a strongly divided partisan issue, with Republicans on the voluntary side, and Democrats like Sanders pushing for greater transparency. Republicans in support of voluntary labeling worry that these labels would cause consumers to consider something wrong with the product, and would even cause a negative costly effect for grocery costs. Companies would try avoiding having to label GMOs, by changing their ingredient lists and this would raise an average American family’s grocery costs by $1,000 a year (NPR).

S. 1609 received 48-49 split vote in the Senate, without gathering the necessary 60 votes for it to pass, but the battle over food labeling is not over. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) revealed that negotiations would continue, and a possible labeling standard could be reached in the future. Average consumers have been voicing their protests against only voluntary labeling, like the President of the National Corn Growers Association, Chip Bowling who pleads for Congress to “set clear, commonsense guidelines,” to provide affordable and clean food for families (NPR).

There is a substantial sized alliance for those against the DARK Act like, the advocacy coalition, Just Label It. An accumulation of over 700 associations, ranging from “the healthcare community, consumer advocates, farmers, concerned parents, environmentalists, and food and farming organizations,” who support mandatory GMO labeling (Just Label It). Their collective concern is that S. 2609 still keeps consumers ignorant of what is in their products, and since 90% of Americans would like to be educated then S. 2609 and the argument for voluntary labeling is opposed to the people’s will. A compromised solution still needs to be found to benefit both parties with businesses and consumers, but while also democratically respecting what the American people want.

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