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Can Monsanto Find a Democrat to Cosponsor a Senate Version of the DARK Act?

Now that the House has passed H.R. 1599, the so-called “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” we’re waiting to see who introduces a Senate version of the bill, and what that bill will look like.

But before anything can happen in the Senate, Monsanto and Big Food need to find a Democrat and a Republican willing to introduce the Senate version of H.R. 1599, or as we prefer to call it, the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.

Word on the street is that Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) may step up to the plate as soon as Congress returns from its August recess—that is, unless an anti-H.R. 1599 editorial in his home state newspaper, the Bismarck Tribune, causes him to think twice.

Time will tell. In the meantime, we’ve identified 12 Democrats who we think might be willing to carry the water for Monsanto. They made our list because they all voted against states’ rights to label GMOs in 2013, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), introduced an amendment (which failed) to the Farm Bill that would have guaranteed states’ rights to require labeling.

Sign the petition to these 12 Senate Democrats: Don’t support the DARK Act!

In all, 28 Senate Democrats voted against the Sanders Amendment. Nine of those Senators are no longer in office.  Three (Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)) have since redeemed themselves by cosponsoring the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act.  Two others—Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)—have indicated they oppose H.R. 1599. Letters to constituents from two more Democratic Senators--Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.)—reveal that both these Senators support states’ rights to label, consumers' right to know about GMOs, and the need for pre-market safety testing of GMOs, positions that are antithetical to support for the DARK Act.

That leaves 12. Here’s the list of Democratic Senators who might be swayed by Monsanto to strip states and Congress of the right to require labels on GMO foods.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is a member of Agriculture Committee, so she would be a strategic choice for lead Democratic cosponsor of a Senate version of the DARK Act. Sen. Klobuchar shot to the top of the list of suspects when the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Monsanto’s main front group for DARK Act lobbying, began running television and radio ads in her home state of Minnesota.

In the last election cycle, Sen. Klobuchar took:

$37,900 from General Mills
$29,700 from Land O’Lakes
$28,100 from Cargill
$13,550 from Coca-Cola
$12,100 from the Grocery Manufacturers Association
$11,500 from American Crystal Sugar
$10,400 from PepsiCo

These companies are Monsanto’s most important allies in their fight against our right to know, even as they profit from non-GMO sales. Don’t let General Mills’ non-GMO Cheerios, Land O’Lakes organic eggs, Cargill’s non-GMO soybean oil, Coca-Cola’s Suja Juice, or Pepsi’s Naked Juice fool you.

If Sen. Klobuchar chose to cosponsor a Senate version of the DARK Act, her Minnesota colleague would be sure to follow her lead.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) tells constituents that he voted against states’ rights to label GMOs in 2013 “because it would create a state-by-state patchwork of regulations, which could be costly to producers and consumers alike.”

Monsanto’s claim that GMO labels would increase food prices has been repeatedly debunked, most recently by the Washington Post Fact-Checker blog, which gave the claim “three Pinocchios.”

Minnesota voters, please call Sen. Klobuchar at (202) 224-3244 and Sen. Franken at (202) 224-3244.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) would seem to be an easy target for Monsanto, as he’s firmly against our right to know about GMOs.  When running for reelection in 2014, he told an audience convened by the Illinois Farm Bureau that he’s proud to have voted against GMO labels.

I don’t believe you go around labeling food, inferring there’s something wrong with the product unless there’s evidence of it,” he said. “I have yet to see a credible scientific report that GMO food is any hazard, any danger to anybody.

Why is Sen. Durbin taking Monsanto’s word for the safety of GMO foods when he knows the company can’t be trusted on other issues?

For example, when Monsanto announced its intention to buy Swiss-based Syngenta, Sen. Durbin called it for what it was: a tax dodge. Sen. Durbin is co-sponsor of legislation that would end such “corporate inversion”—the movement of headquarters overseas to avoid higher U.S. taxes.

He was quoted saying that it was “clear that Monsanto — a company that has prospered and expanded in large part due to U.S. taxpayer-funded programs and services — intends to reincorporate overseas as part of its proposed acquisition of Syngenta in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes.”

Illinois voters, please call Sen. Durbin at (202) 224-2152. Join OCA and Food & Water Watch Aug. 27 at Sen. Durbin's Office in Chicago!

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) is an Agriculture Committee member who is rumored to be interested in introducing a Senate version of H.R. 1599. But he would be going against the grain in his home state if he does.

Indiana voters overwhelmingly support mandatory labels on foods made with GMOs. The most recent survey found 83 percent of Indiana residents in support of GMO labels. A majority (85 percent) of these supporters said they believed that a label requirement was “very” or “somewhat important.”

Will Sen. Donnelly listen to his state or his paymasters? In the last election cycle, he took:

$31,391 from Land O’ Lakes, whose subsidiary, Forage Genetics, partnered with Monsanto to bring us GMO alfalfa.
$26,412 from Eli Lilly, owner of rBGH (Posilac), the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone developed by Monsanto to force dairy cows to over-produce milk.
$12,500 from American Crystal Sugar, the number-one processor of Monsanto’s GMO sugar beets.
$12,000 from Coca-Cola, part of the coalition led by Monsanto that has spent $143 million since 2013 to block GMO labels.

Indiana voters, please call Sen. Donnelly at (202) 224-4814.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is an Agriculture Committee member who is getting a lot of pressure to support the DARK Act from a GMO snack food company in his home state of Ohio.
Shearer’s Snack Foods, which uses the tagline “Salty Snacks and Cookies,” took Sen. Brown on a tour of its Millennium Manufacturing Facility and used the opportunity to lobby the Senator on supporting H.R. 1599. A local newspaper reported that Sen. Brown said it makes sense for every state to adopt the same labeling system.

I don’t like government dictating how industry does business, but this is one time the industry wants them to step in.

Sounds like the execs at Shearer’s failed to mention that this “uniform labeling system” they were advocating for would deprive consumers of their right to know about GMOs in our foods.

Ohio voters, please call Sen. Brown at 202-224-2315.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) probably wouldn’t be Monsanto’s first choice for DARK Act sponsor, even though she represents Monsanto’s home state.

Monsanto has tried hard to conceal itself behind the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which then hides behind the Coalition for Safe and Affordable Food. If Sen. McCaskill were to become the DARK Act’s champion in the Senate, the Monsanto’s cover would be blown.

Sen. McCaskill took $37,774 from Monsanto in the last election cycle. All told, she’s collected $277k in campaign contributions from agribusiness.

Missouri voters, please call Sen. McCaskill at (202) 224-6154.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) is the biotech industry’s best friend. That’s according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which named Sen. Coons their 2015 Legislator of the Year. Correction: BIO stands for Biotechnology Innovation Organization.  They’ll start using the new name in 2016.

Since 2013, BIO has spent $20,460,000 lobbying against GMO labels.

The BIO Food and Agriculture Section includes GMO seed companies Monsanto, Dow, BASF and Bayer, as well as Aqua Bounty Technologies (GMO salmon) and Elanco/Eli Lilly (rBGH, the GMO hormone given to cows to make them overproduce milk.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) hasn’t said anything about GMOs recently, but his campaign contributions speak for themselves:

$26,100 from DuPont
$13,140 from Dow
$10,000 from Eli Lilly

Delaware voters, please call Sen. Coons at (202) 224-5042 and Sen. Carper at 202-224-2441.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) warns his pro-right-to-know constituents that “unnecessarily labeling inherently safe products could actually risk confusing and misleading consumers.”

Inherently safe? There is no basis for the claim that GMOs are safe. In 2015, over 300 scientists published a paper titled, “No scientific consensus on GMO safety,” in which they showed that a substantial number of animal feeding studies have found toxic effects and signs of toxicity in animals fed GMOs compared with controls.  According to the paper:

Concerns raised by these studies have not been satisfactorily addressed, and the claim that the body of research shows a consensus on the safety of GM crops and foods is false and irresponsible.

New Jersey voters, please call Sen. Menendez at 202-224-4744.  Join OCA for a meeting with Sen. Menendez’ staff in Newark on Monday, August 24. RSVP to

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has been instrumental in obtaining federal funds to fight citrus greening, including funding that has gone toward the development of GMO oranges.

Consumers are lukewarm about GMO orange juice, even in Florida where many feel an emotional connection to the iconic industry. An industry-friendly survey found that only 52 percent of Floridians thought that genetic modification should be used to save citrus, while 33 percent weren’t sure and 16 percent disagreed.

Even fewer would buy GMO orange juice. Some of the people who saw genetic modification as a good way to save the industry, wouldn’t actually buy GMO juice. Only 42 percent would buy Florida-grown GMO orange juice, while 33 percent were undecided, and 25 percent wouldn’t buy it.

The pollsters didn’t ask whether GMO oranges should be safety-tested or labeled, or whether non-GMO growers should be protected from genetic contamination.

Given how controversial GMO foods are, Sen. Nelson has been wise to keep a safe distance from the GMO OJ issue, advocating for citrus greening research without trying to guess the solution. We hope he’ll want to stay away from the DARK Act for the same reason.

Florida voters, please call Sen. Nelson at (202) 224-5274.

Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are two of the 13 Democrats who helped rush fast track trade promotion authority through the Senate. This bill included a Monsanto Protection Provision directing the President to “eliminate practices that … distort agricultural markets to the detriment of the United States … including … unjustified trade restrictions or commercial requirements, such as labeling, that affect new technologies, including biotechnology.”

Given their support of these industry-friendly trade deals, it’s no stretch to think that Sens. Kaine and Warner will do Monsanto’s bidding on H.R. 1599.

Virginia voters, please call Sen. Kaine at (202) 224-4024 and Sen. Warner at (202) 224-2023.

Alexis Baden-Mayer is political director of the Organic Consumers Association.