A bill to create a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients and block states from issuing their own laws sailed through the House on Thursday.
The bill, which passed by a 306 to 117 vote, directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a national labeling standard that allows food producers to choose how they want to disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients.
Under the legislation, manufacturers will be able to use text, symbols or a QR code that consumers must scan with a smartphone to relay the information.
Democrats slammed the measure, calling it anti-consumer. Critics say the bill will roll back tougher state standards and deny consumers information on their foods.
"It was at the behest of big industry that the QR code be listed as an option,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said when the debating the bill on the floor Wednesday. “Not what's in the interest of the American consumer, but what a few special interests want”
He argued that QR codes discriminate against low income and elderly people – those without a smartphone or Internet access.
“The debate about GMO labeling is about transparency and the right of every American to know what's in the food they eat,” he said. “It's very simple. The best approach would be a clear and easy-to-understand label or symbol, not some crazy QR code that only creates more hassle and confusion.”
Republicans have hailed the legislation has a bipartisan agreement that supports science, which has shown that GMOs are safe.
“I believe the government should old require labels when it is a matter of health of safety or to provide valuable nutritional information,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said. “It’s important that his state by state patchwork not disrupt the nationwide marketing of food.”
Obama is reportedly expected to sign the legislation despite the concerns from Democrats and consumer groups.
"While there is broad consensus that foods from genetically engineered crops are safe, we appreciate the bipartisan effort to address consumers’ interest in knowing more about their food, including whether it includes ingredients from genetically engineered crops,” White House spokeswoman Katie Hill told Bloomberg in a story published Wednesday.
"We look forward to tracking its progress in the House and anticipate the president would sign it in its current form.”
—This story was updated at 1:40 p.m.