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The DARK Act: Denying Our Right to Know and Our Farmers to Grow

July 20th, 2015
Urgent action needed to protect small farmers and our rights as individuals
Center for Food Safety

Updated July 27, 2015

Take action right now by contacting your Senator!

There is an effort in Congress right now to deny farmers and consumers a basic right: choice over the food we grow and eat. Legislators, backed by massive corporations, have introduced a bill that would block any state or county from not only labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods, but even regulating their cultivation in any way. To be sure, GE foods have become a controversial topic. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, this new bill hurts real people.

Elise Higley is one of those people. She has a hundred acre vegetable and seed farm in Jackson County, Oregon. Jackson County is located in one of the top five seed growing regions in the world, where organic and non-GE seeds are grown to fulfill the high demand for these seeds across the globe. But a few years ago, a farmer there realized that the chemical and seed giant Syngenta was growing GE sugar beets in the area. Because the GE beets could contaminate a variety of other crops, like Swiss chard, with its patented GE genes, the farmer had to pull up his chard and as a result lost out on a major contract, costing him serious financial losses.

Other farmers in the area realized that this could happen to them as well and decided they needed to protect themselves. Over 150 family farms in southern Oregon’s Jackson and Josephine Counties came together last year to pass a ban on the cultivation of GE crops. With strong bi-partisan support and despite almost $1 million in opposition from Monsanto and other GE patent holders, the counties voted to ban the growing of GE crops by a 2 to 1 margin.

Voters across the country have passed a range of similar local laws aimed at protecting farmers and communities from GE crops, in states including California, Washington, and Hawaii. Some communities have GE free zones where traditional farmers can thrive, while others have required buffer areas between GE crops and hospitals or schools to minimize pesticide exposure.

But the disingenuously named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” (H.R. 1599), introduced by Representative Pompeo (R-KS), threatens to block any such effort to protect communities. What’s more, it would likely nullify over a hundred democratically passes local laws in over 40 states, some of which have been in place for over a decade. This includes the victory won by farmers like Elise in Jackson County. H.R. 1599, commonly referred to by opponents as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know” (DARK) Act, would expressly preempt all state or local oversight of GE crops. The bill would also severely weaken already feeble federal regulation of GE crops overseen by agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A lack of federal oversight of biotechnology in agriculture has repeatedly led to incidents of transgenic contamination, with devastating effects to traditional and organic farmers. We need to strengthen federal oversight of these crops, not weaken it.

On July 23rd, the House of Representatives, severely out of touch with the American people, passed this terrible bill. But many, including Representatives Chris Gibson (R-NY), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), vocally opposed the bill and called for the establishment of a national mandatory labeling standard. Now we look to the Senate to stand up for our right to know and our farmers' right to grow.

It’s time for consumers to stand with farmers like Elise Higley and oppose the DARK Act. We have the right to choose what we want to eat, and farmers have the right to grow what they want to grow. They can’t do that if their crops are constantly under threat of contamination from GE agriculture. A bill that strips away these choices does nothing to help the American people, only the bottom line of a few major corporations.

To support farmer and consumer choice and oppose the DARK Act, take action right now by contacting your Senator!


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