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In the quest for a solution to the United States GMO labeling debate, many scenarios have been proposed, from state labeling laws to a blanket federal ruling; some of these ideas make a whole lot of sense, while others simply won’t work. Last week, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a suggestion that has some up in arms: consumers should just use their smartphones to get the information they need about foods.

According to the Center for Food Safety (CFS), “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.”

The CFS claims this is absurd primarily due to Vilsack’s assumption that everyone in our country could actually afford to do that. Half of our country doesn’t actually own smartphones, bringing up issues of privilege and access: “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. ”

Colin O’Neil, the director of government affairs for CFS, explains how the label changes needed for smartphone collaboration with food labels make the simple label changes needed to label GMO foods seem minor: “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,” he says.

My question is: if food labels are supposed to provide consumer information, why in the world should we even need to consult an outside tool (a smartphone) in the first place? Food labels, just like the information found on any other consumer product, should provide consumers with transparent information in full form — which, quite simply, should include the fact that it has been genetically altered from its natural state. Plain and simple!

Image source: Diliff / Wikimedia Commons

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