Dem senators 'troubled' by GMO labeling system

Senate Democrats are casting doubt on the feasibility of a new initiative from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) aimed at labeling foods with genetically modified ingredients.

In a letter to the GMA Thursday, Sens. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Tech: FCC chief downplays delay to TV box reforms | Lawsuit filed over internet transition | Waze rolls out ridehailing service Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo MORE (D-Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Overnight Tech: FCC chief downplays delay to TV box reforms | Lawsuit filed over internet transition | Waze rolls out ridehailing service Anti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP MORE (D-Mass.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (D-Vt.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Vulnerable NH Republican ties reelection bid to Trump Overnight Finance: Congress poised to avoid shutdown | Yellen defends Fed from Trump | Why Obama needs PhRMA on trade MORE (I-Vt.), Jon TesterJon TesterElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (D-Mt.) and Chris MurphyChris MurphySenators press State Department on 'plan B' in Syria Could Snapchat be the digital bridge to younger voters? Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress MORE (D-Conn.) said the group’s voluntary SmartLabel program discriminates against a large segment of the population by relying on smartphone technology to give consumers the information they’re seeking online.

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Because consumers would have to use their smartphones to scan a barcode or QR code on products while shopping, the senators want to know how GMA will ensure that consumers who don't have smartphones — typically elderly, low-income or less-educated individuals — would be able to obtain the information. 

“While we recognize that the companies committed to this initiative are taking a step towards supplying consumers with the information that they deserve to have access to, we are troubled that this initiative may have significant anti-consumer loopholes,” the senators said.

“We worry that this initiative will instead make it more difficult for consumers to learn basic information about the food products they are buying, such as whether a product contains a specific allergen or whether the product uses genetically engineered ingredients.”

The lawmakers also expressed concerns about technical hurdles with various smartphone models on the market and consumer privacy, citing a recent poll from the Mellman Group, which found that 82 percent of consumers think food manufacturers should be restricted from collecting personal information, such as food choices and physical location.

They asked what promises manufactures participating in the SmartLabel initiative will make to assure consumers that their personal information will not be used or sold and how they plan to address technological challenges such as access to adequate cell phone data service in grocery stores.

GMA was asked to answer the lawmakers' questions by Feb. 17.