A new law that mandates GMO labeling for most foods continues to stir controversy. Advocacy groups say it allows food companies to obscure whether a product contains genetically modified organisms, while major trade groups say it gives manufacturers flexibility that a patchwork of state laws wouldn’t.
But that doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with the result.
Last week, President Barack Obama signed into law a measure that creates a federal standard for mandatory GMO labeling. The law requires that food packaging include a symbol or electronic code indicating that genetically modified organisms were used in producing the item. The legislation avoids what manufacturers said would have been a patchwork approach to regulation at the state level.
“With this new law, consumers will have access to more information and the confidence that the label they are reading contains the same information from coast to coast,” Peter J. Larkin, president and CEO of the National Grocers Association, said in a news release.
But labeling advocates argue that the law gives food companies too many options for disclosing the information—including by using QR codes, which they say can obscure the information entirely or make it inaccessible to some segments of the population.
“The requirement of how to disclose GMOs gives companies an option of putting words on the package, which we know that they don’t want to do, or using things like a QR code, which we think is not acceptable, because lots of folks can’t access that technology,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch, in comments to Public Radio International. Lovera also raised concerns about the lack of penalties for noncompliance.
Meanwhile, The Consumerist, a popular blog affiliated with the nonprofit advocacy group Consumers Union, cited FDA statements that that the legislation creates loopholes for certain kinds of ingredients.
But flexibility is the very provision that food-industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which last year offered a voluntary-labeling proposal that took a similar approach, are cheering.
“The legislation ensures that consumers get more information about genetically engineered ingredients, prevents a patchwork of confusing and costly state labeling mandates, and provides the same labeling rules to shoppers regardless of where they live or shop,” GMA President and CEO Pamela G. Bailey said in a statement. “It is the right solution to increase disclosure of information that consumers are seeking without stigmatizing a safe technology that feeds a hungry and growing world.”