Can you read this label?

It says “This product contains GMOs.”

Intense lobbying by food manufacturers, grocery stores, and large agribusiness interests resulted in the passage of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard Act in July of 2016. Opponents renamed it the DARK Act, for Deny-Americans-the-Right-to-Know because, though it technically mandates some sort of labelling on some foods made with genetically engineered food crops, it does so in a way that repeals local GMO labelling laws, exempts many GE-food ingredients from the labelling requirements, and allows manufacturers to choose modes of “labelling” that use a symbol, or a code that can only be interpreted using a smart phone and the internet, rather than plainly stating that “this product contains genetically engineered ingredients.”


A key section of this law forbids states and other local jurisdictions from enacting their own more stringent versions of a GMO labelling law, and nullifies any such laws previously enacted. A GMO labelling law in Vermont, Bernie Sanders’ home state, was a specific target of this new law. Another section exempts ingredients that have been processed to remove any genetic material like syrup from corn or oil from canola seed. Critics maintain that the lack of genetic material is no guarantee of the safety of the ingredient. (An example of this is the genetically engineered bacterium designed to produce the amino-acid tryptophan which generated a non-genetic toxic byproduct that resulted in some deaths and many injuries.)


Both advocates and opponents of the law say that the details of how exactly the law will actually work will be worked out in regulations, the public marketplace and in the courts. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said “there’s no question that there will be litigation.”


On the plus side, the bill explicitly allows companies making organic foods to plainly label their products non-GMO, a privilege which the government regulators, in cahoots with agribusiness interests, had previously tried to block.


However, the new law does not keep states from actually banning growing GE-food crops in individual jurisdictions, nor does it stop states from enacting legislation to make patent holders liable for contamination of conventional crops by GE crops, rather than pitting farmer against farmer in these cases.


In Oregon, a 2013 “grand compromise” bill took away the rights of counties and cities to enact GE-crop bans, but a set of bills in the current legislative session could reverse SB 633, and give counties and cities explicit rights to ban GE crops in places where it might jeopardize other agricultural products, like vegetable seeds. Another bill proposed in the current Oregon legislative session gives farmers the right to sue the patent holders, that is, the creators of GE crop seeds, for contamination and pollen “trespass.”