Protect food consumers’ right to know
Michigan’s history is rooted in agriculture. We proudly stamp the foods grown here with the “Made in Michigan” label. Each day Michiganders make more informed choices about the food we eat. We crave information: We want to know if the apple we’re eating was grown in Michigan, and when GMO apples enter the market soon, we’ll want that information, too. But action by the U.S. Senate could endanger Michigan’s ability to require labeling of genetically engineered foods (GMOs).
In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 1599). The legislation is also known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act by proponents of transparent food labeling. The DARK Act would prohibit states from passing laws to require labels for GMOs, void existing state labeling laws, and put in place a toothless voluntary labeling system.
Industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association and corporations like Monsanto, Pepsi and Michigan’s own Dow Chemical and Kellogg are working to keep secret information about how the food we eat is produced, despite polls that consistently show that more than 90 percent of Americans want GMOs labeled.
Our U.S. senator, Debbie Stabenow, is the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. As such, she has an opportunity to be a leader for families and farmers in Michigan and across the U.S. But in 2013, Sen. Stabenow, who has championed independent farmers, eaters and the environment, voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have clarified that states have the right to label genetically engineered foods.
More recently Stabenow indicated that she is in favor of disclosing information about the food we eat, but suggested an absurd “compromise” that could bar states from requiring labeling and enable access to information about GMO foods only to the technologically savvy via a QR code.
What’s a QR code? It’s like a bar code that a shopper would have to scan with an application downloaded to a smartphone in order to be routed to a company’s website to review a list of ingredients.
Inconvenient, right? But for the thousands of people who lack access to the technology required to read the labels, like many seniors and low-income residents, a QR code system is elitist and means they won’t get basic information about the food they buy. Furthermore, a QR code system would enable companies to harvest and sell large amounts of data about shoppers who are simply trying to find out what’s in their food.
Michigan companies like Kellogg that export their goods internationally already have to comply with mandatory labeling requirements in more than 60 countries around the world. Don’t Michiganders deserve that same information?
This legislative session, Stabenow could get a proverbial second bite at the apple if the Senate takes up the DARK Act. She must not cave in to big ag interests by settling for anything less than a mandatory, on-package label that clearly states when foods contain GMO ingredients. Michiganders want to be informed about the food we eat and feed our families, and Stabenow has the power to ensure our access to that information by soundly rejecting any variation of the DARK Act.
Lynna Kaucheck is the senior Michigan organizer for Food and Water Watch.