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Mark Mellman: Protect your right to know

How do you expect voters would react to members of Congress supporting a bill that tramples on the rights of states and localities, creates a government bureaucracy to replace a private system that’s working and takes away consumers’ right to know what’s in the food they eat? 

We may find out. 

{mosads}Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) is moving a bill dubbed the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, which would make it illegal for states to require labels indicating whether foods contain genetically modified organisms, quashing states’ rights.

It also makes a mockery of another right: Do you believe you have the right to decide for yourself whether to eat GMO foods? Pompeo & Co. doesn’t think so.

Many people may be fine eating GMO foods. But denying consumers the right to know what’s in their food makes it effectively impossible for consumers to exercise their right to decide. 

Members jumping on Pompeo’s bandwagon are not only flouting common sense, they are defying public opinion.

Eighty-eight percent of voters favor “requiring labels for foods that have been genetically modified or contain genetically modified ingredients,” with more than 70 percent saying they are strongly in favor. Just 6 percent of the electorate oppose requiring labels. 

In this partisan atmosphere, it’s difficult to find issues on which 86 percent of Republicans, 86 percent of independents and 93 percent of Democrats all agree. This is one of them, according to a national survey we conducted for Just Label It last month.

In standing against GMO labeling, Pompeo and the other members supporting his bill are standing with less than 6 percent of the electorate.

In fact, Pompeo’s bill is much more radical — it actually makes it illegal for food companies to tell consumers whether their products are GMO-free, until and unless the U.S. Department of Agriculture undertakes a yearlong process. 

Right now, nongovernmental entities are doing a fine job making such certifications. Pompeo would put them out of business. 

And if the Kansas lawmaker, like his GOP colleagues, believes corporations are people, don’t they have a First Amendment right to tell consumers the truth about what’s in their products — a right this bill abrogates? 

The DARK Act would also prevent local communities from enacting any regulations on GMO crops to protect farmers and local residents. Many
genetically engineered crops are developed to work with a potent herbicide called glyphosate, for example, that the World Health Organization recently found “probably” causes cancer. If a local community were to decide it wants to keep fields where this potentially toxic herbicide is sprayed a certain distance from, say, school playgrounds, Pompeo’s bill would stop them cold. 

So what’s Pompeo’s purpose? Give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s nothing more than what he says; he says he worries that labeling will increase food prices. 

Really? Printing the words “Contains GMOs” will raise the price of food? Companies regularly change their labels and don’t hike their prices. Does the cost of a box of Wheaties go up every time a new champion is pictured on the front of the box? 

The federal government is already requiring changes to be implemented soon in nutrition labels. Piggyback GMO labeling on that and the incremental cost is literally zero.

Pompeo also claims concern about hunger, suggesting farmers won’t be able to grow enough to feed the world.

In fact, yields are now higher for non-GMO crops than for GMO varieties. And with labels already required in more than 60 countries, including all of Europe, along with Russia, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, it’s hard to argue damage to the world food supply. 

Pompeo’s position is, apparently, that Americans should be told less about what’s in their food than Russians and Chinese. 

That will be a tough case for members to make to their constituents.  

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the minority leader of the Senate and the Democratic whip in the House.

Tags Genetically modified food GMO Mike Pompeo

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