Perdue: GMO Labeling Rules Likely to Have Tech Component

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By Casey Wooten

Upcoming labeling rules for foods made with genetically modified organisms will likely have an electronic component such as a QR code, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

Congress passed a mandatory GMO labeling law in July 2016. The bill requires the Agricultural Department to craft rules implementing the law by mid-2018.

“I believe consumers ought to have a right to know, but how we do that efficiently and effectively, it will probably deal with technology, whether it’s a QR code or whatever,” Perdue said during a panel discussion June 1 at the Montana Ag Summit in Great Falls.

Since taking office in April, Perdue hasn’t made many public statements on the department’s GMO rulemaking progress. Perdue’s comments illustrate his outlook on the potential scope of any GMO labeling implementation.

Perdue said he would consult with Congress to “hear their hearts” on the issue as his department moves forward with the rulemaking.

“I knew we had gone too far when I walked through the hair products aisle of the grocery store a few weeks ago and saw organic, non-GMO shampoo,” Perdue said.

Electronic Option

The 2016 law gives a broad outline for the USDA to write the rules. Food makers could convey GMO information using on-package text, a USDA-created symbol or though some sort of electronic means, such as a QR code scanned by a customer’s smartphone.

The key question as the department crafts labeling rules is how much that electronic option will come into play. Food makers pressed hard for Congress to include the option. Consumer groups, however, say a QR code fails to provide enough on-package information and adds a technological barrier for some consumers.

Perdue said that while he supported disclosure, he wasn’t in favor of a lengthy on-package list of GMO information.

“I want people who want to know to the nth degree to have access to the nth degree, but 98 percent of people don’t want to know to the nth degree,” Perdue said. “They just want to know if it tastes good and it costs right.”

Part of the GMO labeling law requires the Agriculture Department to conduct a study into the efficacy of using QR codes and other electronic means.

Peter Wood, a spokesman for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the agency tasked with overseeing the study, told Bloomberg BNA May 30 that the study is set to be completed by its July 28 deadline.

Roberts Weighs In

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who was also on the Montana panel, said any labeling rule should not stigmatize GMO products.

“We should not appeal and say we’re going to put a label on every product, right on the front, and then after that label is on there demean that product, even to the point of pointing at it and saying ‘This may not be good for you,’” Roberts said.

Roberts described the GMO labeling bill as an opportunity to craft rules that are “not a real danger to processed food.”

Roberts said the months-long effort to pass the labeling bill in 2016 was “round one.”

“We won round one; round two will be the implementation,” Roberts said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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