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Harvest Public Media reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues through a collaborative network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest and Plains.

A new GMO labeling law is drawing heat over whether it works

Kristofor Husted / Harvest Public Media

With the start of the new year, a federal law required food processors to label their products, alerting consumers to genetically modified ingredients.

But critics say the new law essentially lets the industry hide the information by sticking the information behind cumbersome technology, and experts say the change won’t alter what consumers buy.

The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act gives food manufacturers several labeling options: printed text on the back of the product that says the product was made partially with genetic engineering, a symbol, a QR code or a phone number that will send a text message. The Center For Food Safety has filed a lawsuit contending that providing a QR code is not an accessible way to provide information to consumers.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that 20.5 million of Americans live in areas with insufficient internet access to load information through a link like a QR code.

“It just kind of has a disproportionate impact on minority communities on, you know, rural communities, older populations, because they won't be able to access this information,” said Meredith Stevenson, a lawyer for The Center For Food Safety. “It’s just completely unacceptable.”

The labeling changes are very small and are unlikely to be noticed by consumers even though they’re on everyday products like cereal boxes, said Aaron Adalja, an assistant professor of food and beverage management at Cornell University.

“Most consumers that have an interest in this type of technology or an interest in avoiding this type of technology in their food have sort of already sorted into their buying preferences based on the existence of voluntary labels over the last decade,” he said.

Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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