On Friday, July 29, 2016, President Barack Obama signed a new and controversial GMO labeling bill (aka bill S. 764) into law. This new bill will require companies that manufacture foods containing genetically modified organisms to make labeling changes notifying potential customers of these ingredients. While some states, like Vermont, already have strict GMO labeling laws in place, this new bill will supersede all state GMO labeling laws. Therein lies the controversy.
Critics of the new bill, who have dubbed it the DARK act for “Denying Americans the Right to Know” believe that this bill discriminates against lower income consumers. That’s because manufacturers will have the option to eschew listing GMOs on their packaging in favor of QR codes or 1-800 numbers. Critics believe that this not only adds an unnecessary extra step for consumers seeking ingredient transparency, but it also makes it difficult or impossible for consumers who can’t afford smartphone technology that can scan QR codes to get detailed ingredient information.
Meanwhile, some manufacturers complain that to make the required labeling and artwork changes is too expensive. While that may or may not be true, it’s estimated that 75% to 80% of American foods contain GMOs, indicating that the need for label changes will be widespread for brands nationwide.
The United States is not the first country to enact GMO labeling laws. To date, 64 countries require some kind of call out on their packaging to alert consumers of genetically modified ingredients.