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Paul Towers

The looming DARK Act

[7/23/15 Update: This morning, the House voted to pass the DARK Act 275 -150. The bill is now headed to the Senate.]

The Monsanto-backed bill to undercut GMO labeling efforts just got worse. Faced with increased push-back at state and local levels, the pesticide/biotech corporation — and its allies in Congress — are attempting to further limit choice in the food and farming system.

In this latest version of what critics have dubbed the "Denying American's Right to Know" or DARK Act, industry has snuck in a provision that would limit the authority of local government to create rules on genetically engineered (GE) crops.

If passed, the DARK Act would strip cities, counties and states of authority to govern GE crops — even laws already on the books. Worried that nearby GE crops might cross-pollinate and contaminate your fields or threaten your organic certification? Tough luck. Want to know what’s being grown nearby? Too bad. Want to protect schoolchildren from pesticides applied on GE crops nearby? Suck it up.

The DARK Act, H.R. 1599 (Pompeo) is the latest push in Congress to limit rights to label GE foods. And it comes as public concern over GE crops and foods is growing. Polls show that 90% of Americans support GE labeling, supporting the right to know what’s in our food and how it's grown.

Monsanto & Co’s push has taken on greater urgency after courts vindicated Vermont’s efforts to promote GE labeling, set to take effect in the coming months. And other states look to be following close behind. The "Big 6" pesticide and GE corporations — Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, BASF and Bayer — have been spending millions to defeat labeling laws state-by-state. The DARK Act is an attempt to quash the issue once and for all, disallowing states to pass labeling laws — or regulate GE crops in any way.

As if limiting the right to know (on labels) wasn’t bad enough, these corporations actually want to strike down protections for farmers and communities on the front lines of dealing with GE and pesticide problems.

Farmers & frontline communities speak out

The DARK Act would restrict local control or authority all across the country. Moreover the new law would undo hard-fought laws already on the books in California, Oregon and Hawai’i that were created to protect farmers, children and neighboring communities from the hazards of GE crops and their accompanying pesticides.

In Kauai, residents and their elected officials passed a law to provide greater disclosure and information about GE crops and pesticides used near schools and homes. And in Jackson County, Oregon, a farmer-led coalition passed a law to prohibit growing GE crops, directly challenging the seed industry's status quo. These community victories would be negated by the DARK Act.

Kaulana Poe, a resident near GE test fields in Kaua'i, testified at in front of the County Council before the law was enacted:

"Aloha and respect are why I am for this bill… People have gotten sick, and we would like to make sure that it's not because of them [the companies]. And that is just real simple. [It's about] showing aloha and respect for us."

And Elise Higley, director of Our Family Farms Coalition in Jackson County, described the importance of their win like this:

“There is no fence that can protect the corn crop my family grows for seed from being contaminated by Monsanto’s or Syngenta’s GE corn. If a neighbor or contract grower plants GE corn, when the wind blows towards our farm our seed crop will be contaminated by patent-protected GE pollen and rendered worthless since it would be illegal for us to sell or plant the contaminated seed. This risk led over 150 family farms in southern Oregon’s Jackson and Josephine Counties last year to pass a ban on the cultivation of GE crops.”

With the addition of these local control provisions, the DARK Act just got darker. It moved from being about limiting information on food labels to actually undoing the rights of local governments to stand up for their residents — and make good policies that reflect local concerns.

No doubt the House floor will be a tough one, given the resources Monsanto and the rest of the Big 6 are investing. Even so, veteran agriculture reporter Chuck Abbott warns that “given the difficulty of passing a stand-alone bill in the polarized atmosphere of Congress, there is speculation the labeling issue will become a rider on a must-pass bill later this year.”

So stay tuned! We're keeping a close eye on this issue.

Picture of Paul Towers

Paul Towers

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