Merkley Warns Against Dangerous Anti-GMO Labeling Bill in Senate and Highlights Legislation to Give Consumers Transparency

Portland, OR — Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley visited Green Zebra Grocery in North Portland to discuss a bill, commonly referred to as the DARK – or Denying Americans the Right to Know – Act, which could be on the Senate floor next week that would permanently ban any state from requiring labeling of genetically modified ingredients in foods. 

Merkley also highlighted legislation that he introduced last week that creates a compromise to the DARK Act ensuring that consumers can find GMO ingredient labeling on food packaging while ensuring that food producers are not subject to confusing or conflicting labeling requirements in different locations. 

“Every American who believes in consumer choice should be alarmed about this rushed effort to overturn consumers’ right to know what is in the food they buy and feed their families,” said Merkley. “That’s why I have worked closely over the last several months with food producers and labeling advocates to find a middle ground that protects consumers’ right to know, while ensuring that food producers are not burdened by unfair or conflicting labeling requirements.”

The Biotechnology Food Labeling and Uniformity Act would allow American consumers to see whether a food has been prepared with GM ingredients, while offering food manufacturers several options for including this information on or near the ingredients list. This framework meets the needs of consumers, the vast majority of whom support labeling according to polls, and producers, who worry that a patchwork of state labeling laws would be costly and difficult to comply with and confusing for consumers.   

Specifically, the Biotechnology Food Labeling Uniformity Act would amend the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to require manufacturers to disclose the presence of GM ingredients on the Nutrition Fact Panel in one of four ways: 

  1. Manufacturers may use a parenthesis following the relevant ingredient to indicate that this ingredient is “Genetically Engineered.”
  2. Manufacturers may identify GM ingredients with an asterisk and provide an explanation at the bottom of the ingredients list.
  3. Manufacturers may simply apply a catch all statement at the end of the ingredient list stating the product was “produced with genetic engineering.” 
  4. The FDA would have the authority to develop a symbol, in consultation with food manufacturers, that would clearly and conspicuously disclose the presence of GM ingredients on packaging.

None of these options would require front panel disclosures or “warning” statements intending to disparage GM ingredients.

In addition to providing concrete disclosure options, today’s GMO labeling bill would also provide regulatory certainty to national food manufacturers. This legislative proposal represents a uniform Federal GM labeling standard with sufficient flexibility to suit manufacturing operations of various sizes and markets, while also giving national manufacturers in compliance with the federal standard safe harbor from the potential patchwork of state laws.  

Through this proposal, interested consumers have the ability to find clear information about GM ingredients written directly on the product label when making food purchasing decisions, and food producers have regulatory certainty in complying with a single GMO labeling standard.

The legislation is endorsed by Amy’s Kitchen, Ben and Jerry’s, Campbell’s Soup Company, Consumers Union, Just Label It, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Nature’s Path, and Stonyfield Organic.

“The legislation reflects Campbell’s support for mandatory national standards for labeling of foods made with GMOs,” said Kelly D. Johnston, Vice President of Government Affairs for Campbell Soup Company. “We applaud Senator Jeff Merkley and his colleagues for responding to consumers’ desire for the information they seek in a consistent and transparent manner.”

“Everyone who eats has a right to know where and how their food was grown. We have a right to make informed choices about what we put into our bodies,” said Lisa Sedler of Green Zebra Grocery. “Food labeling has become a controversial issue fueled by companies like Monsanto who don’t want consumers to know what’s in our food or specifically how it was grown. At some point you have to wonder what they are hiding. Green Zebra fully supports the labeling of GMOs.” 

“We support Senator Merkley’s efforts to put forward a common-sense national labeling standard for food that contains genetically engineered ingredients,” said Ivan Maluski, a farmer and Policy Director for the Oregon non-profit Friends of Family Farmers. “Oregon’s family farmers have nothing to hide and are proud of the food we produce. Farmers across the state support greater transparency in the food system and the rights of consumers make the most informed choices about the food they eat and feed their families.”

“The American public has the right to know what’s in the food they eat and feed their children,” said Julia DeGraw with Food and Water Watch. “The Dark Act is an antidemocratic bill designed only to benefit multination corporations like Monsanto, not consumers. We commend Senator Merkley for championing a solution that would give all Americans the ability to be informed of what is in their food through mandatory labeling.”