GMO bill leaves many concerned

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GMO bill leaves many concerned

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By Addison Martin

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Americans continue to call for stricter legislation when it comes to whether they are putting all-natural food into their bodies, and those in Iowa City are looking for change as well.

A compromise bill proposed by Sens. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., passed on July 14 by the House of Representatives, calls for a more open conversation about genetically modified organisms. It would require companies to list all GMO ingredients contained on their products, but only on QR scans.

Although the health risks of GMOs, if any, are still being debated, consumers want more openness from companies when it comes to the ingredients because of fears about possible environmental effects.

Some local residents who have advocated for GMO labeling nationwide said they were disappointed with this bill because they found it full of loopholes and vocabulary that could allow companies to leave out many GMO ingredients.

“Our preference is for clear, simple on-package language so that consumers can know at a glance if the product was produced using genetic engineering and have the information they need to make their own purchasing decisions,” said Jen Angerer, the marketing manager for Iowa City’s New Pioneer Co-op. “We are disappointed that the compromise bill includes an option for companies to use QR codes.”

The QR codes she refers to is a detail that would have shoppers scanning a code using their smartphones, which would direct them to a list of GMO ingredients, allowing companies to avoid putting their ingredients directly on the container. However, Angerer said, she believes the option may not work in their favor.

“We believe that companies that choose to use QR codes, in lieu of an on-package disclosure, might find that that QR codes quickly become the symbol for ‘contains GMOs,’ ” she said.

Dave Murphy, the executive director and founder of Iowa-based group Food Democracy Now, said he is disappointed in what he calls a “discriminatory bill.”

“I would just say the one benefit of the legislation and poorly written bill finely exposed how corrupt America’s food and agriculture companies are, that they would support a bill, that they would allow this masquerade for transparency in what is clearly an effort to hide these ingredients,” he said.

The use of QR codes, Murphy said, leaves out the 36 percent of Americans who do not own or cannot afford smartphones.

However, he said he is confident this is not the end of his journey for more transparent food laws.

“We’re not stopping, we’re not letting up, we’re just going to keep fighting and exposing systemic corruption in our food and democracy,” he said.

Although this bill is the first national action that would include all states, there are no set consequences for companies that do not comply and no way to follow through with what the bill would ask for.

Jacob Simpson, a co-president of the University of Iowa Gardeners, a student club focused on educating the UI and Iowa City communities on the value of organic local foods, said while a QR code may be a good idea, it isn’t the best way to spread information to “all populations.”

“There is an underlying assumption that everyone has a smartphone and has time to process the QR code,” he said. “People should know what they are eating; they should know what chemicals will be in their bodies.”

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