Congressional GMO Voters Guide: Who Sold Out the “Right to Know”

November 1st, 2018

The Cornucopia Institute Grades Senators and Representatives Ahead of 2018 Fall Election

ci_voterguiderighttoknowEvery member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who voted for or against stripping states of the ability to require the labeling of genetically engineered food (“The Dark Act”) has received a grade on their votes on issues concerning transparency and the labeling of GMO food ingredients. The scorecard was prepared by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group watchdogging government and industry on matters impacting organic food and agriculture.

“Public polling continues to indicate that consumers are very interested in the ‘right-to-know’ what is in their food and want transparency in the use of GMO food ingredients,” said Jason Cole, a researcher for Cornucopia who gathered and analyzed the voting data. “We think voters will also be interested in digesting how their elected officials graded out on these issues as they prepare to cast their ballots next week on November 6.”

In the House, 70 members received an “A” or a “B” on the seven legislative issues concerning GMOs. Five representatives scored an “A+”.  In contrast, a whopping 162 representatives totaled zero points and received an “F” on Cornucopia’s report card.

In the Senate, 26 senators received an “A” or a “B” for their actions, on behalf of consumers, on five legislative issues concerning GMOs.  Nine senators obtained an “A+” in the GMO scorecard. A total of 41 senators fell at the opposite end of the spectrum, receiving a failing grade for scoring zero points with their legislative actions.

Congress passed a national uniform GMO food labeling law in 2016, an action that was dubbed by Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chair of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee, “the most important vote on agriculture in the last 20 years.” Most of the incumbents standing for reelection in 2018 were in Congress when the important GMO labeling vote was taken.

“Senator Roberts was undoubtedly right about the importance of the new GMO food labeling law,” said Cornucopia Executive Director Mark Kastel. “But we and many other public interest organizations think it is a toothless bill, largely benefiting Monsanto and the biotech industry, and that it will continue to mask GMO food ingredients while doing little to help consumers easily understand what is in the food they are eating and feeding their families.”

The USDA has since missed a congressionally mandated deadline for implementation of the labeling law and the widely criticized requirements, described as a giveaway to corporate agribusiness, have yet to be implemented.

This vote illustrates a decisively partisan tilt in the support of labeling of GMO foods between the two major parties. Of the incumbents standing for reelection in 2018 who voted for The Dark Act, 121 Democrats and Independents, or 63% sided with the public’s right to know, while only 11 Republicans, or 5%, did so.

The bill, that made its way through Congress in 2016, was the catalyst for one of the largest controversies in the history of the organic movement.  Almost 300 public interest groups and other organic stakeholders aggressively lobbied Congress to vote against the legislation which didn’t require Big Food to label GMO content on packaging and preempted states from doing so themselves. It was revealed that the organic industry’s powerful lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), and some of its largest members, had worked behind the scenes in support of the labeling law.

Cornucopia contends the OTA position gave some members of Congress the political shelter needed to side with powerful agriculture and biotechnology interests.

“We know that some members of Congress, who otherwise had positive voting records, were intentionally misled by the OTA claiming that it represented the entire organic community, rather than acting as a corporate-dominated lobby group long led by such prominent agribusinesses as Dean Foods/WhiteWave, Smucker’s, Driscoll’s, Dannon/Stonyfield, and Organic Valley,” Kastel stated.

The dustup has caused some well-known members of the Organic Trade Association, including Dr. Bronner’s and Nature’s Path, to resign.

One of the hallmarks of organic agriculture has been food transparency. The use of GMO technologies is expressly prohibited in organics.

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The four current House members receiving the highest score are Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR). The eight senators Cornucopia called “champions” are Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

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