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Center for Food Safety Responds to Secretary Vilsack's Comments on GE Food Labeling, Bar Codes

March 14, 2014
Center for Food Safety

In a hearing today in front of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Secretary Vilsack suggested that consumers should rely on smartphones for basic consumer information about the foods they are buying.

In response to a statement from Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) about the recent passage of a bipartisan effort in Maine to require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, Secretary Vilsack suggested that consumer demand for labeling should be solved with voluntary use of bar code technology for smartphones.

“Secretary Vilsack’s assertion that consumers demanding the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods should rely on smartphone technology is not only absurd, but fundamentally unjust and impractical. Anyone supporting this approach must be living on another planet,” said Colin O’Neil, director of government affairs for Center for Food Safety.

According to a Pew Research project, only 56 percent of American adults own a smart phone, thereby denying access to labeling information to nearly half of the U.S. adult population. Moreover, among those whose household income is under $30,000 that number drops to 43 percent. 

“Consumers overwhelmingly support the mandatory labeling of GE foods.  It is a shame that in the same hearing Secretary Vilsack would support the right of all Americans to have access to healthy affordable food and later suggest that only those who can afford a smartphone should have access to basic information about what they are buying and feeding their families,” said O’Neil.

“If the Secretary believes that companies can track GE foods with technologically complicated bar codes on their products, they could certainly add a couple of words to their packaging, ensuring all consumers have access to the information and not only a select portion of the population,” added O’Neil.  

Additionally, the Secretary mischaracterized the reason to require GE labeling in the first place, saying that labels should not be required because GE foods do not present a health or safety risk.  This characterization is unfounded and completely misses the mark. 

U.S. courts have recognized a fundamental “right-to-know” rooted in the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and by common law. Unlabeled genetically engineered (GE) foods are misleading and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a duty to prevent consumer deception by requiring that certain information be disclosed.

FDA already requires the labeling of nearly 4,000 ingredients, additives, and processes. Labels do not depict a “skull and crossbones” as some claim nor are labels only required for foods that have been proven dangerous. In the U.S., we do not label dangerous foods; we take them off the market.

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