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 BlumenthalElizabeth Warren joins House Dems' sit-in Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote Dems blast Republicans after failed gun votes MORE (D-Conn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Healthcare: GOP plan marks new phase in ObamaCare fight Overnight Healthcare: Dems trying to force Zika vote | White House tries to stall opioids bill for $$ | Free Lyft rides from ObamaCare Overnight Healthcare: New momentum to lift ban on gay men donating blood MORE (D-Mass.), Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Bernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senate heads toward internet surveillance fight MORE (D-Vt.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersClinton warning about 'accessible' email adds fuel to controversy Dem convention co-chair: End superdelegates, caucuses Sanders: We are working with Clinton campaign MORE (I-Vt.), Jon TesterJon TesterBernie Sanders’s awkward return to the Senate Senators roll out bipartisan gun proposal Congress should stop government hacking and protect the Fourth Amendment MORE (D-Mt.) and Chris MurphyChris MurphyThe Hill's 12:30 Report GOP wins congressional baseball game, ending 7-year losing streak Overnight Regulation: Obama signs chemical safety overhaul 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.