In July 2016 Congress passed the first national GMO labeling legislation in the U.S. It is set to go into effect in July 2018, but not before the Department of Agriculture writes extensive rules for the legislation, which left many questions unanswered.
One of the most controversial parts of the bill would allow companies to use digital disclosures such as QR codes. Due to the heated debate over digital disclosures, Congress stipulated that the USDA must complete a study to identify any technological challenges consumers might face if companies used a digital disclosure for GMO ingredients instead of on-package labels.
The study, completed by the consulting firm Deloitte, looked at five different factors:
- The availability of wireless networks or cellular networks;
- The availability of landline phones in stores;
- Challenges facing small and rural retailers;
- The efforts retailers would have to make to address potential technological and infrastructural challenges; and
- The costs and benefits of installing electronic scanners, or other technology, in stores so that consumers could get GMO information.
In September, the USDA released the findings of this months-long study and, unsurprisingly, found serious issues associated with a solely digital option for consumers, specifically for rural and elderly populations.
Here are 9 key findings from that study:
- 23 percent of Americans don’t own cellphones.
- 75 percent were unfamiliar with QR codes.
- 85 percent experienced technical challenges using certain mobile scanning apps.
- 5 million Americans don’t have access to adequate broadband, making it impossible for them to learn if there are GMOs in their food if companies use digital disclosure.
- Of the retailers visited across the country, zero had a scanner available for consumers to use.
- A study conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center in July 2016 found that only 15 percent of Americans scanned barcodes or QR codes to find ingredient information.
- Shoppers often believe that on package digital links are there for marketing or industry use, and do not know that the links may contain food information.
- The public has difficulty connecting to broadband – if they even have access – which is usually slow and makes loading content difficult.
- There are hundreds of scanning apps on the market, causing confusion and difficulty finding results.
Judging by the issues outlined Americans could have a very difficult time finding GMO information if companies decide to use digital disclosures. Why should people have to use their valuable time to take out their phones, find a QR code and scan to find out what is in their food when companies can easily put a clear statement on the package?
In addition, people would have to experience the perfect storm of convenience for all technology to work as advertised. What if the package is bent and the scanner will not work properly? Consumers should not have to bear that burden just to find out crucial information about their food.
Luckily, Just Label It created a video to show just how difficult this process could be if USDA does not create clear, strict rules around QR codes. There is even a cameo from Gwyneth Paltrow herself!
But the USDA can avert inconveniencing the public. Just Label It has outlined some of the ways the agency can establish strong rules governing digital disclosures, while combatting the issues outlined in the study.
- There should be a strict prohibition of the use of multiple QR codes on a package.
- The disclosure should be prominent and it should omit marketing materials.
- The USDA must ensure that the text and toll-free number are prominently displayed near the electronic disclosure on package.
- The GMO disclosure should be a presence disclosure and provide ingredient-level information.
- The product information page must be mobile-enabled so that consumers are able to view it in real time, and companies must have privacy policies in place and prominently displayed.
- There should be strong comparable access options for people who do not have smartphones. That means all retailers need a scanner in every aisle so that it is as easy for consumers without smartphones to scan GMO information.
- The USDA must ensure that regulations of electronic or digital disclosures apply to all types of digital disclosures and are updated on regular basis.
- Any digital disclosure should be accompanied by a statement such as “Scan for GMO Information.”
- The GMO ingredient information should be the first thing consumers see on information page when scanning a product.
- The USDA will need to establish rules governing the digital zone design and performance such as size, format, color, contrast and quiet zone, as well as considerations for packaging material and shape.
Original Post credit Just label It