The discriminatory bill exempts Big Food from putting GMO labels on food packages and keeps consumers in the dark.
It is known as the DARK Act—Denying Americans the Right to Know. It was signed by President Obama last Friday in the afterglow of the Democratic National Convention, without fanfare or major media coverage. The bill’s moniker is apt. With a few strokes of his pen Obama scratched out the laws of Vermont, Connecticut and Maine that required the labeling of genetically engineered foods.
He also nullified the GE seed labeling laws in Vermont and Virginia that allowed farmers to choose what seeds they wanted to buy and plant. And for good measure he preempted Alaska’s law requiring the labeling of any GE fish or fish product, passed to protect the state’s vital fisheries from contamination by recently approved genetically engineered salmon.
The White House justified the DARK Act’s massive onslaught on local democracy on the grounds that the bill would create national standards for labeling of GE foods. It does nothing of the sort. According to Obama’s own Food and Drug Administration, if enacted, the bill would exempt most current GMO foods from being labeled at all. The FDA further commented that it “may be difficult” for any GMO food to qualify for labeling under the bill. And for any GE foods that might be covered, the bill allows for food to be “labeled” through a digital system of QR codes that can only be accessed if the consumer has a smartphone and reliable internet connectivity.
Unfortunately for one-third of Americans, it seems President Obama does not know the digital divide is real. More than 50 percent of America’s poor and rural populations—a disproportionate number of which are minority communities—and more than 65 percent of the elderly don’t even own smartphones, and for those that do, many cannot afford monthly payments, or live in areas lacking internet access. A minimum of 100 million Americans will not have access to food information because of this labeling system.
Reverend Jesse Jackson understood this. He wrote a letter to the president urging a veto and saying that the bill raised “serious questions of discrimination” and left “unresolved matters of equal protection of the law.” Do all Americans have rights in an increasingly digital society? Or will they be discriminated against because they have limited means?