It was June 2016 when the law passed requiring foods with GMO ingredients to be labeled. This disclosure was the first of its kind in the U.S., a milestone for food transparency and simultaneously a source of monumental discontent for many. The law requires that manufacturers disclose GMO presence but allows for digital means, such as QR codes or links, as a way to comply with labeling.
The law also mandated a study to identify potential challenges associated with the electronic options. The study found multiple problems related to QR codes or links.
As you read this, USDA is writing the regulations implementing the law, and the first draft will be coming out soon. There’s still time for USDA to hear from you on the study’s findings and craft a comprehensive, user-friendly standard.
First one must understand the timeline.
In June 2016, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard was passed with much gnashing of teeth on both sides. Large grocery manufacturers poured money into fueling its demise—they were not pleased. Advocates and consumers felt betrayed and defeated with the inclusion of the digital labeling option.
The law requires that USDA set requirements and procedures to carry out the standard by July 29, 2018.
That’s less than one year from now.
In July 2017, Deloitte published its Third-Party Evaluation of Challenges Impacting Access to Bioengineered Food Disclosure.
It wasn’t exactly pretty.
What did the Deloitte study find?
The study indicated that 53% of US adults care about the issue of GMO foods, with a third of this group caring a great deal. It also pointed out that 26% of consumers look for a non-GMO disclosure on the front of the package.
Many other studies show that between 88%-93% of consumers feel they have a right to know what is in their food.
Deloitte’s findings indicated many challenges we already knew riddled the electronic option:
- Digital links are not inherently associated with food information, and consumers often assume they are for marketing and industry use.
- Consumers may not have equipment capable of scanning digital links on their own, and in most cases there is not a viable alternative provided by retailers.
- There are hundreds of scanning apps available in the market, many of which are not intuitive to use, causing consumer confusion and difficulty opening link results.
- Consumers may be unable to connect to broadband, or connect at a speed that is so slow that they cannot load information.
- The availability of wireless Internet or cellular networks is unreliable especially in rural areas.
- Consumers may be unable to connect to broadband, or connect at a speed that is so slow that they cannot load information
- The efforts that retailers will have to take to address potential technology and infrastructure challenges may prove cost prohibitive.
Where does the discussion go from here?
The law actually states that “If the Secretary determines through this study that consumers will not have sufficient access, he shall provide additional disclosure options in consultation with retailers.”
Since the rule is being written as you read these lines, it’s not too late to make one last push with the USDA. The Deloitte study found serious roadblocks to a comprehensive and consumer-friendly labeling standard.
You can email the Agricultural Marketing Service at: GMOLabeling@ams.usda.gov
Just Label it provides a quick and nifty way to tell the USDA to create a clear and consumer-friendly GMO disclosure standard. Simply take action here: http://bit.ly/2hrk553.
On November 7th, 2017, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Sens. Jon Tester, Tom Udall, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden, Sheldon Whitehouse, Martin Heinrich, Dianne Feinstein, and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), pressed the USDA to prioritize consumer-friendly solutions in its upcoming decisions about labeling genetically engineered food. They concluded that QR code “labels” could leave older and rural Americans in the dark.
The Department of Agriculture is drafting the rules for the first national GMO disclosure system in the U.S. Important decisions rest in the USDA’s hands, including how to define a GMO and how GMO ingredients will be disclosed.
If you believe Americans have the right to know what is in their food and how their food is produced, urge the USDA to address the obstacles of digital or electronic disclosures.
The discussion isn’t over yet.