GMO Label Bill Clears Major Hurdle in Senate ... Now What?
Sen. Bernie Sanders "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the so-called DARK Act
This bipartisan "compromise" bill, introduced after years of negotiations by Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, would require businesses to label genetically modified foods. That is, if you consider a QR code, 1-800 number or a website URL a label instead of clear, concise language that 9 out of 10 American consumers want and a number of major food companies have started doing anyway. The bill would also nullify state-by-state mandates such as Vermont's and halt efforts by 30-odd states considering similar legislation.
The Senators's bill is unsurprisingly backed by the very industry that produces and profits from such products, including the Grocery Manufactures Association, Monsanto, etc. Deep-pocketed food and beverage corporations have spent millions to lobby politicians and even sued Vermont to stop GMO labeling with the belief that GMO labels would scare consumers away and that a 50-state patchwork of rules would be confusing and costly.
The Senate is voting on a very bad piece of Monsanto-backed legislation today. Text GMO to 82623 to oppose it. https://t.co/21yiDd5zpc— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467827882.0
Incidentally, as Common Dreams reported, in data revealed by OpenSecrets.org and the Organic Consumers Association, the senators who voted "yea" on last week's 68-29 preliminary vote received more than twice as much in contributions from the agriculture lobby than those who voted "No" ($867,518 for the supporters vs. $350,877 for opponents).
Opponents of the bill have dubbed it another version of the "Deny Americans the Right to Know," or DARK Act. The earlier DARK Act, which would block state labeling laws, failed in March. The New York Times editorial board also called the latest bill "flawed," stating:
While most scientists say that genetically modified foods do not pose a risk to human health, consumers should have a right to more information about what they are eating. Polls have found that a vast majority of Americans favor mandatory labels. Dozens of countries, including all 28 members of the European Union and Australia, already require similar disclosures.
Researchers have found that labels do not dissuade people from consuming genetically engineered food, which has been a big worry of farm groups and businesses. It is no surprise then that some companies, like Campbell Soup, have voluntarily agreed to label their products.
The biggest problem with the Senate bill is that—instead of requiring a simple label, as the Vermont law does—it would allow food companies to put the information in electronic codes that consumers would have to scan with smartphones or at scanners installed by grocery stores. The only reason to do this would be to make the information less accessible to the public.
So where does that leave us? Well, the decision means that debate is now limited to 30 hours and can withstand filibuster. The final vote could happen sometime tonight or tomorrow and would only require a simple majority, or 51 votes. Efforts by Sen. Bernie Sanders to put a hold on the bill have been quashed since the cloture vote mustered more than 60 yeas.
If the legislation clears the Senate, it would go to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which has historically voted against transparency after passing Rep. Mike Pompeo's bill (H.R. 1599) last year. It would then goes to President Obama's desk, who could sign the bill into law.
If it seems that the bill probably stands a chance, there are still a number of obstacles. As Politco's Morning Agriculture blog reported, Roberts did not exactly celebrate the cloture vote, adding, "Strange things can happen." For instance, on Wednesday during the cloture vote, GMO labeling advocates from the Organic Consumers Association threw $2,000 in cash from the Senate balcony to the floor. They yelled "Monsanto Money" and "Sen. Stabenow, listen to the people, not Monsanto" as the bills fell, according to The Hill.
Yesterday's vote also revealed that the bill has lost some steam since last week's 68-29 procedural vote. According to Politico, "Maine Sens. Susan Collins (R) and Angus King (I) voted yes last week but opposed cloture, as did Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bob Menendez (N.J.) voted for cloture after opposing the vote last week. The nays added Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who did not vote last week."
Additionally, the Right-wing Heritage Foundation is also against the bill (basically, the foundation says even QR codes are too transparent) and have urged lawmakers to oppose the bill and warned it would key the vote as part of its legislative scorecard.
As for the House vote, even though the lower chamber already passed their own GMO bill, the Senate version is different enough that the House would have to vote on it again, as Grist noted.
The House has been urged by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives to take up and pass the bill before summer recess, which starts next Friday.
A spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway told Politico that Conaway "will await the outcome in the Senate before making any public statements regarding his position on what action he believes the House should or should not take. He's still engaged in discussions with industry and other stakeholders on the matter."
Detractors of the bill are speaking out against further advancement of the bill. Sanders tweeted Wednesday: "The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they're eating."
The Stabenow-Roberts GMO bill is confusing, misleading and unenforceable. It does nothing to make sure consumers know what they’re eating.— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467818743.0
Also, as Quartz puts it, the presidential candidate also "expertly trolled" the Senators who support the bill.
[email protected] You can find my response here: https://t.co/WKYz2b8cUO— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1467826397.0
The QR Code is real by the way. If you don't have a QR scanner, the code links to a statement on Sanders's website defending his home state's GMO labeling law.
A number of environmental and consumer advocate groups have spoken out against the bill and the Senate vote.
"Friends of the Earth denounces the Senate's passage of the DARK Act, S. 764, a bill which was passed under the guise of GMO labeling," food and technology campaigner Dana Perls said. "This bill is a travesty, an undemocratic and discriminatory bill which preempts state laws, while offering no meaningful labeling for GMOs. If accepted, Americans will remain in the dark about what we feed our families. We are deeply disappointed in the members of Congress who supported this bill and who did not stand with the vast majority of Americans who want mandatory on-package GMO labeling.
"Friends of the Earth urges consumers to call on the House and President Obama to oppose any bills that would undermine state GMO labeling laws, and to only support meaningful, mandatory on-package labeling for GMO foods, including those made with new gene editing techniques."
Food & Water Watch California Director Adam Scow criticized Sen. Dianne Feinstein's "vote against consumers and for Big Food."
"[The legislation] rolls back the progress that people around the country have made to get clear, on package labeling for GMOs," Scow said. "The bill she voted for will leave way too many Californians in the dark when it comes to knowing what's in the food we eat and how it was produced."
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said, "If this bill becomes law, the industry wins what are essentially voluntary requirements under this GMO labeling 'compromise,' which does not mandate recalls, penalties or fines for noncompliance with the incredibly weak requirements of the bill that will likely leave many GMO ingredients exempt from any labeling requirements."
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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