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Obama Signs Controversial GMO Labeling Law

With President Barack Obama's signature, a controversial bill regulating labels on genetically modified food has become law.

The bill, which was pushed by two senators who are heavily financed by the food industry, preempts what labeling advocates say is a stronger, more consumer-friendly version of a similar law passed earlier in Vermont, reports GMWatch.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, were the architects of bill S. 764, which they say will create a national standard for labeling food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The Roberts-Stabenow bill was heavily favored by the bioengineering and agriculture lobbies, reports Inquisitr.

But as Fortune magazine notes, opponents have dubbed S. 764 the "DARK Act," short for “Denying Americans the Right to Know."

They point out that the Roberts-Stabenow law doesn't actually require food companies to label products that contain GMOs. Instead, the food- and bio-lobby-approved law allows companies to avoid printing any reference to GMOs on packaging, as long as they include QR codes -- those small, pixelated black-and-white boxes designed to be scanned by smartphones -- or the URL of the food company. The consumer would then be expected to look up each individual item to determine whether it contains GMOs.

Stabenow and Roberts say the new law standardizes GMO labeling, instead of forcing food companies to comply with a potential patchwork of state labeling laws. But advocates of clear GMO labeling say hiding information inside QR codes or on corporate websites actually makes the information less accessible to shoppers, who are less likely to pull out their smartphones and scan their grocery items instead of simply reading GMO information off a package, says Food Babe.

The GMO law "falls short of what consumers rightly expect -- a simple at-a-glance disclosure on the package,” Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the Just Label It campaign, wrote in a statement in July.

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, agreed.

"This is not a labeling bill; it is a non-labeling bill," Kimbrell wrote in a statement to Mother Jones. "Clear, on-package [genetically engineered] food labeling should be mandatory to ensure all Americans have equal access to product information."

Not everyone is unhappy with the law. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that lobbies for major food companies, called the new law a "commonsense solution for consumers, farmers and businesses."

Despite widespread consumer opposition to the federal GMO law, and polls showing 9 out of every 10 Americans want to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients, Stabenow called her bill a “win for consumers and families."

Sources: GMWatch, Inquisitr, Mother Jones, FoodBabe / Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS/Wikimedia Commons

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