In a letter addressed to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue published on Tuesday by a group of 11 U.S. senators pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) arm to consider consumers’ need to easily access information on food ingredients as the AMS crafts rules on product labeling of bioengineered (GE) food ingredients.
“All Americans have the right to know what is in their food and how their food is produced,” the letter stated. “We are writing to urge you and the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to consider carefully the rights and will of the American people as the AMS undertakes a rulemaking process to develop a national standard for clear, accessible labels for food products containing bioengineered (GE) ingredients.”
The letter’s authors include Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Senators identified “obstacles Americans would face while attempting to access GE ingredient information through digital or electronic disclosures.” Under new food labeling laws passed in 2016, the USDA is required to create a new food product labeling system that identifies bioengineered ingredients. The present form of the law permits electronic or digital labeling of GE ingredients, including QR codes for smartphones.
“We are particularly concerned about the potential use of quick response (QR) codes to label bioengineered foods. QR codes present obstacles for Americans who do not possess smartphones; Americans who live and shop in areas without broadband or cellular network access; and Americans who simply do not have the experience, education, or training to access information using these codes,” the letter said.
Pointing to recent research showing a quarter of Americans do not own a smartphone to scan QR codes, the authors of the letter said those living in rural areas may be adversely impacted by the rules.