Hawaii GMO critics say new labeling law doesn't go far enough

GMO critics say new federal labeling law a positive step, but doesn't go far enough

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Genetically modified ingredients will now have to be labeled on food packages, thanks to a federal bill signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama.

The legislation passed by Congress two weeks ago will require companies to include a Quick Response (or QR) code on food products, which will then lead the consumer to a website for more information. However, you'll need a smart phone to scan the code.

In other words, a single glance won't tell you if a product has GMO ingredients.

"Can you imagine your auntie who's interested in not eating genetically engineered foods, pulling out her smart phone, going to her QR code reader app, scanning the product, waiting for the website to come up and there's no specifications about what that website will tell you?" said Ashley Lukens, director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety.

Major studies have found GMO foods are safe for consumption. In genetically modified foods, an organism's genetic material has been altered in the lab for a particular purpose, which either is seen to benefit the consumer or the producer. Modifications might be made to make a plant heartier, for example, or to better protect it against diseases caused by insects or viruses.

But anti-GMO groups remain active in Hawaii and elsewhere, and have called for clear labeling legislation. Skeptics of GMO foods say they have a right to know what they're eating.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, says the new compromise passed by Congress and signed by the president is misleading.

"This is exactly what people hate about Washington," she said. "That we pretend to solve a problem when actually we're just making things harder and more confusing for the American people."

State Rep. Chris Lee, meanwhile, said it's unlikely the issue will go away any time soon. "What this issue has really done is give consumers a lot more interest in what they're buying, whether it's food or other products," he said.

Farm groups, food companies and the biotech industry see the QR code rules as an historic victory.

In a statement, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association said the law "will provide for a uniform standard of labeling for food products utilizing genetically modified ingredients. This law will ensure that, whether one lives in Iowa, Louisiana, Oregon, or Hawaii, consumers will know that they are getting the comprehensive information they need to understand the products they buy."

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