A bill would give food and beverage manufacturers options in disclosing whether a product contains bioengineered ingredients/genetically modified organisms (GMO). 

WASHINGTON — Food industry groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association applauded a US Senate committee’s agreement on June 23 to establish a national disclosure standard for bioengineered foods.

A bill would give food and beverage manufacturers options in disclosing whether a product contains bioengineered ingredients/genetically modified organisms (GMO). The form of a disclosure may be a “text, symbol, or electronic or digital link,” according to the bill. Companies would have the option of using quick-response (QR) codes, phone numbers or web sites instead of on-pack labeling.

The potential national law would override any state or local law. A GMO law in Vermont that requires labeling on packaging is scheduled to go into effect on July 1. While the US Senate still could vote on a national bill before July 1, the US House of Representatives has adjourned for the Fourth of July holiday.

Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the GMA

The Washington-based Grocery Manufacturers Association already has introduced a SmartLabel technology initiative that allows consumers to get additional details about products by scanning a bar code or doing an on-line search. The GMA also supports a national GMO labeling law.

“This is the common sense solution for consumers, farmers and businesses,” Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the GMA, said about the Senate committee’s action. “The Senate needs to pass this bill quickly. This bipartisan agreement ensures consumers across the nation can get clear, consistent information about their food and beverage ingredients and prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling laws.”

Ron Moore, first VP of the American Soybean Association

Ron Moore, first vice president of the American Soybean Association and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill., said he urged the Senate to pass the bill as soon as possible.

“The work put in over the past year by chairman Roberts and ranking member Stabenow has yielded a piece of legislation that gives consumers the information they want and need, yet doesn’t drive a proven-safe technology from the market place through the stigmatization that comes with language that could be perceived as a warning label,” Moore said.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, gave the Senate committee’s action a mixed review.

Gary Hirshberg, chariman of Just Label It

“American consumers should have the right to know what’s in our food and how it’s grown, just like consumers in 64 other nations,” said Hirshberg, also co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, New Hampshire. “While we are pleased this proposal will finally create a national, mandatory GMO disclosure system, protects organic labels, and will cover more food than Vermont’s groundbreaking GMO labeling law, we are disappointed that the proposal will require many consumers to rely on smartphones to learn basic information about their food. Now, the fight will shift to the marketplace and to USDA. This proposal falls short of what consumers rightly expect: a simple at-a-glance disclosure on the package.”

Vani Hari, blogger

Blogger Vani Hari, also known as the “Food Babe,” commented on Twitter several times.

“@SenateAgDems with codes that no one has time to use with a smart phone. It’s not true transparency — it’s another way to hide the truth,” she said in one tweet.

Another tweet read, “Mark my words. Food companies that decide to use QR codes will be targeted by major on-line campaigns to shame them.”