GMO Labeling: Uncertain Future but Continued Progress by Non-GMO Project

October is Non-GMO Month, so I thought it would be good to review the latest news on GMO labeling.

The development of genetically modified foods (GMOs), and whether labeling of them should be required by law, is a hotly debated topic in America today. GMOs are plants and animals that have had their genetic material (DNA) altered in a way that does not occur naturally. Down to Earth is opposed to the development of products containing GMOs because we believe they may pose health, safety, and other potential risks that far outweigh the purported benefits. Down to Earth is in favor of GMO labeling so that, if we want, we can choose not to eat GMO foods.

On July 23rd of this year, a bill aimed at preventing GMO labeling across the Nation was passed in the House of Representatives: H.R.1599, the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,”1 known more widely by the nickname given to it by its opponents: the “Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act”.2 This legislation, if approved by the Senate and White House, would rescind power from state and local governments, negating any current laws requiring GMO labeling and preventing any future labeling laws from being established.1

Beyond prohibiting the labeling of GMO foods, the bill further states that the USDA will create its own, voluntary, Non-GMO certification process, purported to ensure that foods labeled as free of GMOs are held to a uniform standard.1 But what level of standard – and how much oversight, by whom – will the USDA label have? Over the past 8 years, the Non-GMO Project has made great strides in certifying products as Non-GMO using rigorous, transparent, third-party testing. According to the Non-GMO Project website, “the bill as written would create a competing label that would confuse shoppers and undermine the tremendous progress we’ve made on setting a high standard for GMO avoidance.”3

Additionally, H.R. 1599 would:

  • Require the FDA to regulate the use of the word “natural” on food packages - a seemingly positive mandate - but further reading suggests that this may simply allow food companies to continue making misleading claims that a product is natural, including one that contains GMOs.4
  • Require that new genetically modified foods go through a process to certify them as safe. This process already exists but is currently voluntary.1 An article by Label It Hawaii members published in the Honolulu-Star Advertiser, April 2012, describes this process as weak and relying “entirely on whatever data the companies choose to disclose.”5 As always, the veracity of such a process must be called in to question.   

H.R. 1599 has yet to move through the Senate and White House and we at Down to Earth are hopeful that it will be defeated. Mark Fergusson, Down to Earth CEO,  is a signatory to a letter signed by 85 other members of the Independent Natural Foods Retailers Association (INFRA), and sent to President Obama in June of this year.  It urged him to veto H.R. 1599. In the letter, the reality of the situation is spelled out simply: “If enacted, the DARK Act would limit the FDA’s ability to create a national GMO labeling system, perpetuate our broken voluntary labeling system, and block state initiatives to give citizens this basic information about their food.”6

Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG) reflects the sentiments of Down To Earth: “We’re confident the Senate will defeat the DARK Act. 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.”7

October is Non-GMO month and, as such, is the perfect time to reaffirm Down to Earth’s support of GMO labeling and our goal of being GMO-free by 2018. It’s also a time to applaud the effort and success of the Non-GMO Project in providing a reliable, third-party tested standard of labeling GMO-free foods. We also acknowledge the countless individuals and grass-roots organizations that are working hard to ensure that consumers are given the ability to know what is in their food. 

As of this writing, More than 2,000 brands [and ten of thousands of products] now have the Non-GMO Project Verfified seal on their products, representing over $12 billion in annual sales--with numbers continuing to each day.8 Down to Earth is proud to be a registered retailer with the Non-GMO Project and to support you, the consumer, in making informed choices about your food. For more information about GMOs and the importance of GMO food labeling visit the GMO page of the Down to Earth website.

  1. CRS, 2015. H.R.1599 - Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 - Library of Congress. [Online]
  2. Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 [Accessed 15 September 2015].
  3. Just Label It, 2015. The DARK Act. [Online]
  4. Senator Stabenow and Senator Roberts GMO Labeling Legislation [Accessed 13 September 2015].
  5. Non GMO Project, 2015. The DARK Act: What's Next. [Online]
  6. Non-GMO Project, “The DARK Act: What’s Next?” July 24, 2015 [Accessed 23 September 2015)  
  7. Roth, A., 2015. 5 Things To Know About the "DARK" Act. [Online]
  8. 5 Things To Know About the ‘DARK Act’ [Accessed 15 September 2015].
  9. Label It Hawaii, 2012. Hawaii should require labeling of GMO foods. [Online] [Accessed 15 September 2015].
  10. INFRA, 2015. DARK Act Letter to President Obama.
  11. Spear, S., 2015. House Passes DARK Act, Banning States From Requiring GMO Labels on Food. [Online]
  12. GMOs: Everything You Need to Know [Accessed 15 September 2015].
  13. Non-GMO Project, “The DARK Act: What’s Next?” July 24, 2015 [Accessed 23 September 2015)