Is It GMO? When Printing a Label on a Package Is Too Easy…

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Is It GMO? When Printing a Label on a Package Is Too Easy…

"Grocery shopping shouldn’t require you to be a smartphone super-user." (Photo: Food & Water Watch)

Big Food companies have spent millions of dollars trying to block states from requiring GMO labeling. Thanks to pressure from hundreds of thousands of concerned people, including over 172,000 Food & Water Watch supporters, we’ve stopped the Senate from doing away with GMO labels… so far. But the industry’s newest ploy shows why we need to keep the pressure on. Tell your Senators to protect clear, on-package GMO labeling.

Vermont’s GMO labeling law will go into effect on July 1, and the corporations that make money off GMOs are getting desperate. Now, they’re pushing Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and others to introduce a so-called compromise letting QR codes and 800 numbers count as GMO labels.

You’ve probably seen QR codes on packaging or flyers, though you may not have known what they are. They’re black-and-white squares that look like evolved bar codes, and when scanned with a smartphone they can direct people to websites, transmit contact information and more.

Let’s consider this. In the industry’s version of a compromise, here’s how you would tell if a product contains GMOs:

  1. Find the QR code
  2. Take out you smartphone, if you have one
  3. Find your QR code scanning app
  4. Scan the QR code
  5. If it doesn’t work at first, keep trying
  6. Wait for a web page to load
  7. Find out if the product contains GMOs

If we had clear, on-package GMO labeling, this process would look a bit different:

  1. Read the label and find out if the product contains GMOs

Why would Big Food companies propose such a cumbersome system? The only reason is to hide information from shoppers. If it’s difficult enough to decipher a label, shoppers won’t bother – grocery shopping is difficult enough without stopping to scan QR codes. If they’re so determined to make GMO labels less useful, they might as well write the labels in code and give shoppers an old-fashioned decoder ring when they enter the store. Unlike QR codes, at least code-cracking will keep the kids busy as they help decipher what you’re buying!

As tempting as it is to joke about this ludicrous plan, it’s actually quite insidious. The QR code compromise is not only inconvenient; it’s discriminatory against low-income shoppers and anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone. Even the most tech-savvy smartphone users rarely use QR codes; surveys have found that only 21% of smartphone owners ever scan a QR code, and 97% of Americans don’t even know what QR codes are. Yet clear labeling is clearly achievable: since last week, Kelloggs, Mars, and General Mills have all announced that they will label GMOs and follow Vermont's labeling law.

Grocery shopping shouldn’t require you to be a smartphone super-user. We need to stop this phony compromise and protect GMO labeling.

Jo Miles

Jo Miles is the Digital Program Director for Food and Water Watch. 

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