Unlabeled GMOs Violate Consumer Protection Laws

DARK Act Would Support the False Advertising of Genetically Modified Foods

Consumer protection laws prohibit a company from selling you a different product than it advertised. If you ordered a Rolex and received a knockoff, you have the right to return the watch and get your money back. The Federal Trade Commission may even pursue civil or criminal charges against the seller. It doesn’t matter whether the knockoff looked and performed exactly like the Rolex or even whether it was a much nicer watch, the point is you bought a Rolex and you have the right to get what you paid for. This well-established rule applies to everything from clothes and electronics to pharmaceuticals and food.

U.S. Representative Mike Pompeo has reintroduced the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 — often referred to as the DARK Act — that would prohibit states from enforcing GMO labeling mandates. In essence, the legislation would support false advertising practices while banning states from doing anything about it.

State labeling laws don’t prevent a company from developing and selling genetically modified products. These consumer protection laws merely protect your right to get what you paid for. If you buy an orange, you expect to get an orange, not an orange with pig DNA, and so the product should be labeled so you can accurately identify the orange.

Natural and GMO crops are entirely different products. Even Monsanto said so, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto on a patent infringement claim. An Indiana farmer Hugh Bowman bought Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds from a local grain elevator. The following year, he replanted seeds from soybeans he harvested from the previous year’s yield. Monsanto sued Mr. Bowman for copying its patented seeds. The ruling in Bowman v. Monsanto Co. makes clear that Monsanto’s patented soybean seeds are afforded special protections beyond a naturally grown soybean seed. Monsanto would have no case had Mr. Bowman saved and replanted seeds from an ordinary, non-genetically modified plant.

If Monsanto is allowed to reap the benefits of exclusively creating and selling a unique type of soybean, consumers should be informed that the item is something different from a natural soybean.

An applicant must prove that its invention is novel in order to obtain a patent. Therefore, all patented seeds, crops and animals are considered unique from their original forms from which they were created. Once the company tinkered with the DNA, a new product emerged.

On its website, Monsanto explains why the corporation patents its seeds:

“Farmers who were saving seed in the past were saving seeds that naturally occurred, not the type of enhanced-trait seeds Monsanto is marketing to modern growers. Seeds that are resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) and contain other desirable traits such as pest resistance or drought tolerance don’t normally occur in nature.”

Monsanto vigorously enforces its patents, having sued 147 farmers and forced settlement in more than 1,000 infringement allegations — likely because fighting a megacorporation might bankrupt a small farmer before she could prove her case.

Rep. Pompeo justifies the Dark Act by arguing that GMOs are safe. Although a highly relevant topic generally, GMO safety is, quite frankly, beside the point as to why legislators  should vote against the bill. The Dark Act is bad law even if GMO producers could conclusively prove that their genetically modified crops are the best thing since sliced bread. Corporations have a duty to accurately label what they are selling to consumers. And, no matter how you slice it, a genetically modified orange is not an orange.

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