The Act (H.R.1599), dubbed the DARK Act by critics (“Denying Americans the Right-to-Know”), would modify the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to allow natural claims on foods with GMOs unless FDA says otherwise.
It would also remove the exclusive jurisdiction of the USDA over non-GMO claims, thus allowing FDA's authority to co-exist. The Act would also allow for certified organic products to make non-GMO claims.
Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the Organic Trade Association, said OTA opposes the bill.
“Absent a federal mandate, OTA strongly believes that states should retain the right to require GMO labels on genetically-modified products,” she said. “We expressed our many concerns prior to the vote. Despite consideration of some specific concerns about conflicts between the Organic Label administered by USDA and the labeling requirements of the bill, concerns remain, and we will continue to work to address these issues as the bill moves through the legislative process.”
"The ultimate issue here is the consumer's right to know what they're buying, their right to choose," Loren Israelsen, president of the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), told us.
The Act may be heading for a floor vote as early as next Thursday, and the view is that it will move through the House quickly. "The question is how much opposition it will get in the Senate," he said.
Israelsen added the Act is a point of division for the dietary supplements industry and that he hopes the members of the industry understand what's at stake. "This will dramatically change how this industry operates," he said. "The small positive may be that it makes the true natural food retailer environment more robust, but that is small comfort."
The division is evident in the Natural Products Association, said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, CEO and executive director of NPA. "We have some members who are very supportive of mandatory labeling and some who are supportive of voluntary labeling. It's a very delicate position because of the wide-range of opinion."
Dr Fabricant agreed that the Act will move quickly through Congress and that there will be two chances to change what's in there. "One thing we feel very strongly about is the recognition that organic means non-GMO," he said.
The American Herbal Products Association is advocating for a federal policy modeled after the National Organic Program (NOP) that would also enable companies to voluntarily disclose the absence of GMO ingredients in foods and supplements.
“AHPA's proposal, however, doesn't include federal preemption of state GMO labeling efforts and the requirements to qualify for a non-GMO label would be more stringent under AHPA's suggested policy than with the current House bill,” said the association in a statement.
The Act was introduced in March by Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) was called a “solution to an urgent and growing problem”, by Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
“I appreciate the collaborative efforts of the Energy and Commerce Committee in getting this bipartisan legislation completed and approved,” he said in a statement. “The current patchwork system of varied labels interferes with the free flow of goods across the country, posing a real threat to interstate commerce and typically results in inconsistent and confusing information for consumers.
“Creating a uniform national policy regarding biotechnology labeling is the free market solution that will allow consumers access to meaningful information, create market opportunities for those on the production and processing side, and will facilitate future innovation.”