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Now Is Our Chance to Get USDA to Label GMOs on the Package

July 13th, 2017
By Nicole McCann
Center for Food Safety

We’ve fought for years for labeling of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) food. Now is our chance to finally get it.

As you may remember, a “compromise” bill on GMO labeling was passed last year, but a lot of the decisions about what foods would be labeled, and how they would be labeled, were left up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The law includes labeling options other than on-package labeling, such as QR codes and websites, which would only serve to hide the information this law was passed to provide.

Big Ag and food companies have made it clear which option they support for labeling: QR codes. They know consumers don’t use these codes and that “labeling” via QR codes is really no labeling all. The USDA is now accepting comments on how GMOs should be labeled. Tell the agency to label GMOs, not hide them behind high-tech codes!


Only 64% of Americans own a smartphone. That means that more than a third of all Americans will not be able to access GMO information if products are labeled with QR codes. Moreover, those left out are disproportionately low income and those living in rural areas. According to Pew Research Center, only 50% of low income people in the U.S. own a smartphone; only 52% of rural Americans own a smartphone; and only 27% of seniors own a smartphone. Even those who do own smartphones are not guaranteed consistent access to the internet. At the end of the day, a substantial number of Americans would be deprived of their right to know if GMO labeling were implemented through QR codes.

In addition, electronic labeling disclosures put an undue burden on the shopper. It is completely unrealistic for a shopper to scan all of the many items s/he is shopping for on any given shopping trip (which for a family of 4 could easily amount to more than 50 items). This would be an undue burden on the consumer and not provide the easy access to information that is currently required for all other forms of food labeling. On-package labeling is simple, quick, and effective. QR codes, websites, and 1-800 numbers are not.


The USDA is also deciding which GMOs will get labeled.

The “bioengineered” definition and scope of the labeling law should ensure that all foods produced through genetic engineering are labeled; including those with ingredients derived from genetically engineered sources, such as highly refined sugars and oils and processed corn and soy ingredients. This should be the case even if the GE ingredients are present only at undetectable levels in the final product: they are still GE foods. The labeling law should ensure that ALL foods produced through genetic engineering are labeled, not cave in to big ag’s pressure to avoid labeling their products through a deceptive, narrow definition of GMOs.

If the USDA is to set a threshold, it should also be consistent with international standards, where the most common standard is mandatory disclosure of 0.9%, by individual GE ingredient. Similarly, the regulations should also ensure that any GE foods made with newer forms of genetic engineering, such as CRISPR and RNA interference (RNAi), are covered, also consistent with international standards and U.S. standards in other regulation.

Polls consistently show that nearly 90% of Americans want to know whether the foods they purchase are produced using genetic engineering, through clear, on-package labeling disclosures. Congress recognized the public’s right to know in passing the GE labeling law. Now, it is critical that the USDA regulations and implementation of the GE labeling law accurately reflect the intent of Congress when they passed the law, provide consistency with international standards, and provide easy access to this information to all Americans.

Finally, USDA should require labeling with terms that are familiar to consumers, such as “genetically engineered” and “produced with genetic engineering” but not vague statements like “may be produced with genetic engineering.” Labeling should be required for processed foods and bulk goods alike. If a symbol is used it should be “GE” or “GMO,” again terms that most consumers are already familiar with.


Americans have already waited long enough for GE food labeling. USDA must meet the Congressional deadline and issue it has proposed and then final rules by July 29, 2018. Manufacturers have already had years’ worth of notice and preparation to provide this information, at the state and federal level. Indeed, many major food companies are already labeling and have been for some time. It would be unfair to Americans, and unnecessary given the recent history of GE labeling, to give more than a short effective date.


The USDA has heard from big corporations – now they need to hear from you! Tell the agency to label ALL GMOs on the package. Get it done!

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