House Passes DARK Act, Banning States From Requiring GMO Labels on Food
Legislation dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act (H.R. 1599), passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 275-150. The bill preempts state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered (GE) foods. A Senate version of this bill has not yet been introduced.
— Just Label It (@justlabelit) July 23, 2015
The bill, backed largely by House Republicans, codifies a voluntary labeling system approach, blocks the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from ever implementing mandatory GE food labeling and allows food companies to continue to make misleading “natural” claims for foods that contain GE ingredients.
A number of farm state Democrats joined House Republicans in passing the bill. Twelve Republicans voted against the bill citing infringement of states’ rights and local control.
“It’s outrageous that some House lawmakers voted to ignore the wishes of nine out of 10 Americans,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG). “Today’s vote to deny Americans the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown was a foregone conclusion. This House was bought and paid for by corporate interests, so it’s no surprise that it passed a bill to block states and the FDA from giving consumers basic information about their food.”
More than 300 organizations, companies and food industry and social justice leaders oppose the DARK Act in the face of massive spending and lobbying by big chemical and food companies, according to EWG. Polls show a large majority of people in key states and across the country support mandatory GMO labeling.
“We’re confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act,” added Faber. “We continue to hope that thoughtful food companies that listen to their customers will work with consumer groups to craft a non-judgmental GMO disclosure to put on the back of food packaging. Americans should have the same right as citizens of 64 other countries to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown.”
To call on Americans to ask popular food brands to stop funding anti-labeling efforts and stand with the overwhelming number of Americans who support mandatory GMO labeling, Just Label It launched the “Conceal of Reveal” campaign.
"We are disappointed but not surprised that the majority of House members have sided with large chemical and food companies to protect corporate interests over the 90 percent of American citizens who simply want the right to know more about their food,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It.
“As a long-time food executive, I find it hard to believe that smart companies like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Campbell’s are willing to risk their reputations to avoid putting a couple of additional words in their ingredient panelsl" said Hirshberg.
"Instead, they continue to fund efforts that are exactly the opposite of what their consumers clearly want. It is clear that the tide of consumer support favors more transparency. Americans will now know how their representatives voted and that their favorite brands are keeping them in the dark.”
More than 30 states introduced legislation to require GE labeling in 2013 and 2014, with laws recently passed in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine, according to Center for Food Safety.
— Rep. Jim McGovern (@RepMcGovern) July 23, 2015
“Passage of this bill is an attempt by Monsanto and its agribusiness cronies to crush the democratic decision-making of tens of millions of Americans. Corporate influence has won and the voice of the people has been ignored,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “We remain confident that the Senate will preserve the rights of Americans and stand up for local democracy.”
Center for Food Safety supports bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Boxer and Rep. DeFazio called the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, which would require that food manufacturers label foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. This bill would guarantee Americans the right to know what is in their foods while respecting the need by companies for a uniform, federal standard.
According to Center for Food Safety, a number of messaging amendments were offered by champions of labeling and states’ rights intended to underscore the bill’s flaws, however all four failed to pass:
Leading opponent of the bill, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) offered an amendment that if passed would have required that any U.S. company who produces a product in the U.S. be bound by the same labeling requirement held in another country.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) offered an amendment that would have removed everything from the underlying bill with the exception of provisions establishing a non-GMO certification program at USDA.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) offered an amendment to specify that as FDA defines the term “natural,” that it does so to exclude GE foods and ingredients.
An amendment offered by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) would have ensured that the preemption provisions in the underlying bill do not abdicate the sovereign right of Native American tribes to prohibit or restrict the cultivation of GE crops on tribal lands.
An amendment to change the name to the Denying Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act was introduced by Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) after the final vote.
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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