Will backroom deals trump your right to know?
December 11, 2015
Right now Congress is trying to finish up their business before they head home for the holidays. The one thing that the biotech industry and junk food giants have on the top of their wish list is for Congress to pass legislation that will stop Vermont’s GMO labeling law from going into effect. Right now they are putting massive resources into convincing Senators to include language in a must-pass spending bill that would wipe out Vermont’s hard won labeling law.
One thing that is very clear from the current debate in Washington is that people are taking notice of what we did here in Vermont. After our initial victory at the US District Court, corporate lobbyists have descended on Washington to make sure their clients don’t have to tell Americans what is in the food that they eat and feed their families.
Earlier this summer the House of Representatives passed what has been dubbed the Deny Americans Right to Know Act, or DARK Act. This legislation would not only eliminate Vermont’s labeling law but it would codify our current voluntary labeling system, make it difficult to create a national labeling standard, and allow genetically engineered foods to be labeled as “all natural”. So far the DARK Act has not moved in the Senate thanks to a strong defense of constituent rights and values.
But, this is why big special interests are trying to use their influence in Washington to slip similar language in a must-pass spending bill last minute, which would let them off the hook from letting consumers know what is in their products. Going around the 90% of Americans who support mandatory GMO labeling is simply an affront to our democratic principles, and as Senator Patrick Leahy explained, “the omnibus bill is no place for this kind of legislative rider.”
As the clock ticks down to the end of the year, we keep hearing about new ways that the biotech and junk food industries are trying to stop Vermont’s landmark labeling law. These proposals have ranged from replacing mandatory labels with voluntary “QR” codes that could be scanned with a smartphone and the correct application, to stopping Vermont’s law from going into effect for two years so that lobbyists have more time to push their corporate agenda.
Luckily Vermont’s congressional delegation and elected officials are standing strong for your right to know. Senators Leahy and Sanders as well as Representative Welch have all co-sponsored legislation that would give Americans what they are overwhelmingly asking for, mandatory on-package GMO labeling. They have also spoken out about the DARK Act and attempts to slip similar language into end of the year spending bills. This is why our top state officials including Governor Shumlin and Attorney General Sorrell recently submitted a letter to our delegation thanking them for their leadership on the issue, and asking them to keep up the fight in Washington (letter below).
As this drama unfolds in the coming weeks we will keep you updated about what you can do to stand up for your right to know. Vermonters from every corner of the state worked hard to make sure we were able to make informed decisions about our food, and we will do whatever is in our power to make sure our law is not wiped out by backroom deals in Washington D.C.
December 10, 2015
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Bernie Sanders
Representative Peter Welch
VIA ELECTRONIC MAIL
Dear Senators Leahy and Sanders, and Representative Welch:
On behalf of the State of Vermont, we thank you for your continued support of Vermont’s labeling law for genetically engineered foods. We are grateful for all your efforts to date and thank you for speaking out against efforts to preempt this law in Congress. As the legislative process progresses toward the close of the year, we ask you to remain especially vigilant and continue to protect the rights of the citizens of Vermont and the law they supported.
We strongly oppose H.R. 1599 (the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015”), as well as any provision that might be attached to the omnibus appropriations bill that would prevent the full implementation of Vermont’s mandatory labeling law and any provision that would trade QR codes for mandatory disclosures on the food products themselves. As you know, Vermont’s labeling law was passed in 2014 with the overwhelming support of Vermonters and their legislators, and it has withstood the first round of legal actions against our State. Though the law is the first of its kind in the United States, American consumers overwhelmingly favor mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. A recent poll by the Mellman Group found that 89 percent of likely voters want these foods labeled, with 88 percent preferring printed labels over scannable QR codes. Labeling enjoys broad international support as well, with 64 countries already requiring labeling for genetically engineered foods.
Vermont’s law requires that foods produced with genetic engineering say so plainly on the products (“produced with genetic engineering”). Anything less at the federal level—including efforts to substitute QR codes for easy-to-read labels—should be rejected. Vermont’s law enables consumers to obtain important information about the foods they eat, it serves as a model for other states, and it should stand.
Now is a crucial time for transparency in our food system. Though powerful corporate interests are doing everything in their power to prevent Vermonters from knowing that their food is produced with genetic engineering, we urge you to continue working on our behalf until Vermont’s law is fully implemented.
Thank you for your ongoing support, and we look forward to your response.
Peter Shumlin, Governor
William H. Sorrell, Attorney General
John Bartholomew, Representative
Carolyn Partridge, Representative
Kate Webb, Representative
Teo Zagar, Representative
Dave Zuckerman, Senator