barcode scanner

During the recent Aspen Ideas Festival focused on healthy living and food choices, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack touched on issues that surround the GMO labeling debate, acknowledging the need for some sort of resolution.

Addressing the ongoing battle between the pro-labeling/anti-GMO camp and the big ag and big food industries that are against GMO labeling, Vilsack said that the answer to satisfy both camps may be found in modern technology. Rather than adding more words on food labels, Vilsack thinks we have another solution at our fingertips.

Andrew C. Revkin spoke with Vilsack for the New York Times about his comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “The way to go, long-term, is to embrace a 21st-century answer to this problem,” Vilsack said, suggesting “an extended bar code or some mechanism [through which] consumers who are interested in all the information about a product could obtain it fairly easily, either through their smartphone or through a scanner that would be available in grocery stores.

“The FDA and USDA could help coordinate the compilation of information. That way you wouldn’t create a misimpression about the safety of a product, which could happen depending on how something was labeled,” he said.

The “misimpression” Vilsack is referring to is the negative connotation foods made with GMOs have, spurring the GMO labeling debate. Public opinion in the U.S. has been cited as strongly pro-GMO labeling, but only one state (VT) is moving forward with an aggressive GMO labeling bill that would require all foods sold in the state to be labeled appropriately if they contain genetically modified ingredients (to take effect in July 2016). The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other big food industry groups have already filed a lawsuit against the state and Governor Pete Shumlin stating that the law is unconstitutional.

While more than 60 countries around the world have banned or severely restricted the cultivation or sale of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients, the United States government doesn’t recognize any health risks connected with GMOs.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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