Big Food’s new “Smart Label” proposal is no substitute for a simple GMO (genetically modified) disclosure on food packaging.

New polling by the Mellman Group shows that few consumers have ever scanned a QR (Quick Response) code and that nine of 10 consumers want a GMO label on the package—not a high tech gimmick.

Here are the top 10 reasons the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s phony alternative to mandatory GMO disclosure on the packaging is not smart at all:

  1. Consumers Don’t Scan QR Codes: The number of consumers who scan QR codes to get information about products is low—and not growing. In general, most consumers simply don’t use smart phones at the point of sale. It’s just not how we shop for food.

  1. Many Consumers Don’t Have Smart Phones: More than 40 percent of consumers—especially low income, less educated and elderly consumers—don’t have phones that can scan QR codes. Installing scanners in every supermarket aisle would be costly for retailers and inconvenient for shoppers.

  1. Consumers Won’t Know to Scan: There would be no prompt—like “scan here for GMO”—on the package, so consumers wouldn’t even know that scanning the code would give them more information about their food.

  1. GMO Information Hidden: Even if consumers did scan the code, GMO information would be hidden under “other” information and the disclosure wouldn’t definitively tell consumers what they want to know—whether the food has GMO ingredients. And the Grocery Manufacturers Association admits that Smart Label would have no rules governing what is a GMO.

  1. Codes Hard to Scan: Scanners won’t work if the codes are too small or supermarkets are poorly lit and there are no rules that set minimum size requirements for QR codes. Plus, codes on bags—like a bag of potato chips—are very difficult to scan because they are not on a flat surface.

  1. It’s Completely Voluntary: Food companies can choose whether or not to include a code on their packages and can drop out of the program at any time. That’s crazy.

  1. No Privacy Protections: When consumers scan codes, companies can collect data on their location and preferences—without the consumers’ knowledge or permission. And there are no rules that prohibit companies from using QR codes to advertise or offer coupons.

  1. No Enforcement: Not only would Smart Label have no rules, it would have no enforcement. There is no way to know whether the codes would provide accurate information or whether in-store scanners (if there are any) would even work.

  1. No Deadlines: Smart Label would set no deadlines for companies to put codes on packages and no deadlines for them to update their data when products are reformulated to include GMO ingredients.

  1.  Consumers Want Clear Labels: Most importantly, consumers overwhelmingly want a mandatory GMO disclosure on the package, according to new polling by the Mellman Group. Consumer support for mandatory labeling on the package cuts across all demographic boundaries—even party affiliation.

Just like the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s ill-fated Smart Choices initiative, Smart Label would make it harder, not easier, for consumers to learn basic facts about their food. It’s time for Big Food companies like Coca-Cola and General Mills to trust us to make our own decisions about what we feed our families.

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