By: Lydia Wheeler
A House-backed bill to keep states from issuing mandatory labeling laws for foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is headed for the Senate, but opponents say they aren’t too concerned.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) is planning to introduce the bill if he can get a Democratic co-sponsor and enough support in the Senate to move it through the upper chamber.
“It has to be bipartisan and it has to get enough votes to pass,” his press secretary Don Canton told The Hill on Monday. “All those circumstances have to be there to introduce it.”
The legislation would be a companion bill to the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act that passed the House in July to create a federal standard for the voluntary labeling of foods with GMO ingredients. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.), who authored the bill, said he’s more confident now than ever that it will get a Senate vote this year.
“The Agriculture Committee will be moving forward with a hearing before too long, and it’ll get good bipartisan support and hopefully that will mean we’ll get it to the floor,” he said.
Opponents, however, hope Pompeo's optimism is unsubstantiated.
“They’ve been trying to recruit a Democratic sponsor for quite some time,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) “I’m not aware they have one yet.”
DeFazio, who has come out strongly against the proposal, said the bill is poorly drafted and will keep states from protecting conventional and organic agriculture from being contaminated by neighboring GMO crops.
He cited the mysterious appearance of GMO crops on a conventional wheat farm in eastern Oregon two years ago. As a result, there was a temporary ban placed on exports of wheat from that region.
“If they undo these reasonable state regulations to protect conventional and organic crops, they could really screw up the agriculture export industry in America, so I would hope the Senate isn’t as stupid as the people in the House who wrote the bill,” DeFazio said.
Lawmakers and consumer groups like the Center for Food Safety have taken to calling the House bill the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act and have even gotten Gwyneth Paltrow to join their fight.
“This bill would keep Americans in the dark about what is on their dinner plates,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “It would not only stop states from providing more information to their consumers, it would sharply limit [the Food and Drug Administration's] ability to provide this information to consumers nationwide in the future.”
But Pompeo said the text of the legislation shows that isn't true.
“It protects the folks that want to avoid consuming GMOs, makes sure U.S. agriculture can continue to use the technology to feed the next billion people and avoids a nasty patchwork of laws,” he said.
And Pompeo only views having a celebrity such as Paltrow to contend with as a sign he’s winning.
“They have given up trying to convince people they are right by using logic and science and moved to bring in a celebrity,” he said of his opponents. “I view that as a good sign of desperation that they have moved from science to star power.”
While Pompeo admits he’s a fan — “Shakespeare in Love” is one of his favorite movies — he said Paltrow should stick to the big screen.
“She’s a wonderful actress who wouldn’t know the science of GMOs if it hit her upside the head,” he said.
With Pope Francis on his way into town and Congress working to avoid a government shutdown, it is unlikely that Hoeven will introduce a Senate bill this month.
“I don’t anticipate anything within the next week or two,” Canton, his spokesman, said.
Originally Published: The Hill