We first wrote about U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s Big Idea for GMO labeling nearly a year ago. Then, the subject surfaced again, as Hershey's announced plans to use QR codes, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association launched its Big QR Code Plan.
The idea is this: Allow companies, voluntarily, to use QR barcodes to tell consumers if their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The scheme would require you to scan the product, then be directed to the company’s website where you’d have wade through the advertising and search the fine print.
Of course, you’d have to have a smart phone. And plenty of time on your hands.
We didn’t like the plan then. We don’t like it now. And we’re not keen that it may show up soon in a Senate bill, that would preempt Vermont's GMO labeling law, set to take effect July 1.
TAKE ACTION: Tell your Senators: Consumers Want Mandatory GMO Labeling, not Voluntary Labeling or QR Codes!
It could happen. And it may even have support from so-called public interest groups like JustLabelIt and the Center for Science in the Public Interest—groups consumers believe are still on our side.
It was back in February that Vilsack once again floated the idea of consumers using barcodes to identify foods that contain GMOs, as an alternative to requiring food manufacturers to put a label on those products.
Referring to the ongoing debate over GMO labeling laws, Vilsack (according to the Associated Press) told the House during a hearing on agriculture spending: “We could solve that issue in a heartbeat.”
At the time, the paywalled site PoliticoPro reported:
The barcode idea is a way of finding that balance, because it creates a process by which a great deal of info can be supplied to a consumer who is interested but it doesn’t indicate that there is anything wrong with a product like a label does, (Agriculture Secretary Tom) Vilsack said.
Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, supports the idea too. Peterson told POLITICO in May that such a system would mean that: ‘[I]f someone wants to know what’s in these products they can read it on their smartphone and that solves the problem” without “cluttering up the label.’”
One of the biotech and Big Food's most popular arguments against mandatory labeling is that it will cost manufacturers money, a cost they will have to pass on to consumers. They base that claim on one study, by Cornell University, which was funded by, and remains the intellectual property of, the biotech industry. (Labeling opponents ignore all the other, independently funded studies
, that show labeling would result in no increased cost to consumers).
The cost argument has never been valid. But since Campbell's Soup Co. announced it will label all GMO products, at no extra cost to consumers, the argument can be put to bed, for good.
Consumers shouldn’t have to rely on a technology that is not readily and/or equally available to everyone, and would no doubt be confusing to others. In more than 60 other countries, where laws require the mandatory labeling of GMOs, consumers can simply glance at the package their food comes in to instantly know whether or not the food contains genetically engineered ingredients.
And as several Senators suggested in a letter
to the GMA, Big Food hasn't adequately answered consumers' questions about QR codes, including privacy issues.
Secretary Vilsack continues to insist that GMO’s are perfectly safe, despite growing evidence, based on sound science, to the contrary. He points to a 1992 decision
by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA)—a decision made only after an ex-Monsanto lawyer was appointed
to the FDA—as conclusive proof that GMOs are safe.
As everyone knows by now, the FDA conducts no pre-market safety testing on GMO foods and crops. Instead, the tax-funded agency charged with safeguarding the U.S. food supply relies
on the word of the companies’ whose profits are at stake that GMOs pose no potential health risks.
Please tell Secretary Vilsack and your Senators you don’t want no stinkin’ QR codes—you want mandatory labeling of GMOs!
More on Vilsack, barcodes and GMO safety here