In a minor win for those who oppose the use of genetically modified crops in America's food system, this week the Senate approved a long-debated bill requiring labels on all foods containing GMO ingredients—with one catch: in order to read the labels, you're going to need a smart phone.
The Senate bill, which will now move into the House of Representatives for consideration and approval, represents months of negotiating and bargaining in an effort to please both consumers and companies. Should the new legislation be approved in the House, companies will be required to disclose their GMO ingredients utilizing a modern technology. Rather than printing a GMO label straight on the packaging, modified ingredients will be listed though a QR code on the package—a.k.a. the kind of square, black-and-white bar code often used on tickets and coupons. In order to retrieve the information about the GMO ingredients contained within a food, consumers must scan the code with their smartphone.
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Under the new bill, organic products that don't contain any genetically modified products can automatically be labeled as "non-GMO." This aspect of the legislation won the Senate support from the Organic Trade Association, a longtime advocate for a GMO label, which aims to prevent conventional but non-organic food manufactuers from using the label.
While this decision has pleased the food manufacturers and distributors, who were concerned about the public perception implications this label could have, others are criticizing congress and the food manufacturers for these potentially deceptive labels. According to NPR, Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter called the labeling bill "a slap in the face for all of the activists" who have worked to promote such labeling. Further opposition has come from the senators from Vermont, who opposed the new label due to its interfering with Vermont's current law, which requires GMO labels written onto food packaging.
Either way the legislation lands in the House, the GMO debate is undoubtedly long from over, as companies and organic food advocates battle for ultimate ownership over the label.