Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Congressman Mark Takai voted against a bill that seeks to stop states from requiring companies to label genetically engineered food.

The measure introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican from Kansas, passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday with a vote of 275-150. It goes next to the Senate.

The bill, HR 1599, is backed by the grocery and biotech industries and is known as the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. Because it would overturn state laws that require labels on food containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), opponents call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act.

GMO demonstrators on the first floor of the Capitol building during opening ceremonies at the legislature. 21 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Anti-GMO demonstrators hold signs at the Hawaii State Capitol building on Opening Day of the 2015 legislative session.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Gabbard, who has been outspoken in her opposition to HR 1599 and co-sponsored HR 913 which would require federal mandatory GMO labeling, said in her floor speech that the measure “makes a mockery of transparency and leaves U.S. consumers in the dark.”

“What are they so afraid of?” she asked. “Why deprive Americans of the ability to make educated choices about whether they want food with genetically modified ingredients? Why make the labeling of such food just voluntary? Why not require it, as we require basic nutrition information on processed foods now?”

She discussed the local opposition to GMOs in Hawaii:

My state of Hawai‘i is the number one state for experimental Genetically Engineered plant field trials, according to the USDA. Many of my constituents are very concerned about these GE crop field testings because of the lack of information about these trials and the pesticides that are being applied to the fields.On the island of Kaua‘i in my district, residents organized and passed an ordinance requiring large agrichemical companies to disclose the pesticides they are spraying and observe buffer zones around schools, homes, and hospitals to prevent chemical spray drifts.The DARK Act could overrule the rights of local communities to make such decisions to protect their health and safety, and guide the growth of their agricultural industries.

A Civil Beat poll in April found that 65 percent of Hawaii voters support mandatory GMO labeling.

Takai also criticized the bill in a press release Thursday:

The bill I voted against today limits the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to require labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) products, and effectively nullifies state laws in place today that regulate GMO foods. For nearly fifteen years, we have had voluntary labeling; however, standards differ and often lead to variances in the definition of natural and GMO products between states. Clearly, this process must be improved. The consumers of our nation deserve to have clarity and be able to make their own decisions on the type of food they buy.Along with many of my colleagues, I support H.R. 913, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act. This legislation would create a national standard to label food products that derive from GMOs. In addition, this bill would harmonize U.S. policy with the 64 other countries that require the labeling of GMO foods. This in turn, would make it easier for producers, processors, and packagers to comply with labeling requirements and would help in exporting our products around the world.”

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