- President Obama has signed into law a bill that will require food and beverage manufacturers to label the presence of genetically-modified ingredients in their products.
- Congress passed the bill last month. It gives manufacturers the option of using an on-package statement, a USDA-approved symbol or an electronic QR code printed on the product label that directs consumers to a website containing the necessary information. The bill also immediately nullifies any state laws regarding GMO labeling, including Vermont's mandatory labeling law, which went into effect July 1.
- The Agriculture Department now has two years to iron out the details of the law's requirements.
Approval of this bill has been controversial, pitting players across the food industry against each other. But it has also brought opposition from a vocal group of consumers and public health advocates. They believe a QR code is an insufficient labeling method and discriminates against certain demographics who do not have regular access to a smartphone that can scan the QR codes in the store.
As of Thursday morning, more than 100,000 people had signed a White House petition requesting that the president veto the bill. However, Politico called the petition "too little too late," as the White House already said earlier in the month that President Obama would sign the bill. FoodDemocracyNow! said in a statement sent to Food Dive that lawyers representing the organization were mounting a legal challenge for issues including "its infringement on the 14th amendment of the Constitution that guarantees 'equal protection for all.'"
Earlier this year, before even Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling bill took effect, several companies pledged to label GMO ingredients on product packaging. However, now that a QR code is a legally viable option, it's unclear whether these companies will end up switching from on-package to electronic disclosure.
A spokesperson for Campbell, the first of the wave to make the commitment and a vocal supporter of mandatory GMO labeling, told Food Dive that it would continue printing its GMO ingredients disclosure on its packaging while also listing its products in the Smart Label database.
But several other companies have already been labeling GMO ingredients using the now approved method of a QR code, specifically with the Grocery Manufacturers Association's SmartLabel. That includes Hershey, which helped pioneer it. The company had already seen 47,000 QR code scans on the 300 products that currently bear SmartLabel though it had not yet done any promotion of what SmartLabel is or does, Hershey's director of product transparency Deb Arcoleo told Food Dive.