Millions of Americans will be left in the dark when it comes to the genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) foods they are unknowingly purchasing and ingesting from grocery store shelves around the country.
In a move that will undoubtedly leave millions of minorities and low-income families ignorant of what they are actually eating, President Barack H. Obama signed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act on Aug. 1.
The bill makes it mandatory to label foods with GMO but the information will be contained in QR (Quick Response) codes, not written on the product’s label. Consumers will be forced to rely on a mobile service, an Internet connection and access to a smartphone to scan a QR code, call a 1-800 number, or visit a website if they want to know whether or not their food is genetically modified.
“What we have here is a civil rights issue that is along the digital divide,” the Center for Food Safety’s Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell, told the AFRO. “It’s a really dangerous and alarming precedent. All Americans that buy food for themselves or their families should have equal information so they can judge what’s right and healthy for their families.”
Kimbrell, along with others represented by his organization, plan to sue over what he called the discriminatory nature of the law. Kimbrell told the AFRO the bill only passed when big food companies pressured politicians to take multiple votes on the matter- even after a defeat in March of this year.
According to the studies completed by the Pew Research Center on smartphone usage in 2015, only “two-thirds of Americans own a smartphone.” This means that of the roughly 324 million people in the U.S. today, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 100,000,000 will be left on the wrong side of technology, thus, limiting their ability to choose or refuse genetically engineered products.
Final touches to the law will be worked out through the Department of Agriculture over the next two years, but the language related to coding, embedded websites, and 1-800 numbers is clear.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that “scientists make targeted changes to a plant’s genetic makeup to give the plant a new desirable trait. For example, two new apple varieties have been genetically engineered to resist browning associated with cuts and bruises by reducing levels of enzymes that can cause browning.”
Since their introduction in 1990, genetically modified organisms have made their way into everything from corn-starch soups and sauces to sweeteners, salad dressings, breads, potatoes, squash, apples, and papayas.
The FDA reports that cotton, corn and soybeans are the most common GE crops grown in the U.S.
“In 2012, GE soybeans accounted for 93 percent of all soybeans planted, and GE corn accounted for 88 percent of corn planted.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, soy can be found in “processed foods, including baked goods, cheese, and pasta.”
The FDA cites several reasons for the popularity of GMOs amongst American farmers, including “better flavor, higher crop yield (output), greater resistance to insect damage, and immunity to plant diseases.”
Still, Americans are not impressed, and many still fear the unforeseen long-term effects of ingesting genetically modified foods.
Citizens of Vermont were able to get their legislators to pass clear GMO labeling laws that went into effect in July 1, 2016. This law required food companies to “label the package offered for retail sale, with the clear and conspicuous words “produced with genetic engineering”—not a code undecipherable by the naked eye, a 1-800 number, or embedded website.
Fearing “serious inequities,” even the Rev. Jesse Jackson pleaded with President Obama in a published letter stating that “100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smart phone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity.
“There are serious questions of discrimination presented here and unresolved matters of equal protection of the law,” added Jackson.
Less than three weeks after his letter, President Obama chose to sign the bill, which overrides all GMO labeling laws previously passed in states like Vermont, and has no penalties for noncompliance.