The other day, MNB took note of a FoodDive story about a study released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) into likely issues related to a system in which the food industry would be transparent about GMO disclosures though the use of smartphones scanning QR codes.

According to the story, the report says that while 88 percent of consumers have at least some access to a smartphone, there was a broad lack of awareness that they could use the technology to access information, or even which applications on their smartphones they could use. In addition, few supermarkets seem to have the technology available to allow people without smartphones to get GMO information they may want, and may don’t even have WiFi technology.

According to the story, “This study was mandated as part of the GMO labeling law, which was signed by President Obama last year. One of the more controversial aspects of the law, which requires manufacturers to specifically label genetically modified ingredients, allows this label to be just an electronic or digital link on the package. Many opponents argued this electronic disclosure, which could be a smartphone-scannable QR code, was not sufficient. A provision was added that required this study to look into the label's challenges and issues.”

I commented:

I’m not sure that the rules are sufficient for now, but certainly the growth in smartphone usage means that they will be soon. But, I do think that responsible retailers and suppliers should be willing to invest in the educational effort necessary to make sure that people know where the info is and how to access it. That would be the responsible thing to do … it would be a hollow effort to make the information available but not do anything to publicize it.

One MNB reader was not impressed:

I will never get a smartphone..laptop and dumb phone sufficient..and not having GMO info available to me and others is discriminatory.

“Never” is a long time. There may come a day when dumb phones aren’t even sold anymore.

From MNB reader Jessica Duffy:

What a pain in the ass. Excuse me, but even if I had the additional app to scan the codes (like I don’t have enough apps as it is), who has the time to go through the grocery store scanning everything they buy? It’s hard enough to remember to check the date on the yogurts. It’s obfuscation – plain and simple.

And finally, this email from David Fikes, who is the Vice President, Communications & Consumer/Community Affairs, at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI):

In the MorningNewsBeat coverage of ‘USDA Study Focuses on GMO Disclosure,’ you quoted a section of the original Food Dive article, but your excerpt unfortunately omitted the  part of the article  in which FMI President and CEO Leslie Sarasin is quoted and addressed the very issue you commented on -  that “responsible retailers and suppliers should be willing to invest in the educational effort necessary to make sure that people know where the info is and how to access it. “   I think her statement in the article  regarding the food retail industry’s  plan to offer consumer education  “… in a concerted effort as soon as the final rule is issued and implementation begins” goes straight to the point you were making in your View.   Her full quote from the article is:

"Our findings concur there is a majority and increasing number of our members’ customers who are able and willing to use digital means to access detailed product information when they want that information," Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Leslie Sarasin said in a written statement. "Increasingly shoppers have the hardware and Wi-Fi or cellular access available to them to do so. Of course in the tradition of food retail’s strong history of customer service, we recognize the need to provide supplemental education to our customers about the information available to them and how to best use the QR Code. And, we are planning to do so in a concerted effort as soon as the final rule is issued and implementation begins.”


It was not my intention to dilute FMI’s position on this. I’m happy to provide this clarification.