ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now, more on that bill about genetically-modified food. It is a compromise on a hotly-debated issue, and neither side is completely happy with the outcome. What it means is that a couple of years from now, consumers will be able to find out whether packaged goods contain genetically-modified ingredients. NPR's Dan Charles reports.
DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: For years, groups opposed to GMOs have been pushing for laws that would require a label on foods that contain ingredients made from genetically-modified crops, like corn or soybeans. Scott Faber from the Environmental Working Group, which wants GMO labels, says consumers need that information to help them choose what foods to buy.
SCOTT FABER: If we don't give consumers basic information, they're not able to ensure that their values are reflected in their food dollar.
CHARLES: The state of Vermont went ahead and passed its own GMO-labeling law. It went into effect this month, and that law forced the issue in Congress. Big food companies and farm groups have been fighting back against proposals to require GMO labeling. Richard Wilkins, who is president of the American Soybean Association, says anti-biotechnology activists just want to use labels to drive consumers away from GMOs. He says that tactic worked in Europe.
RICHARD WILKINS: Their first step was to require a mandatory label, and then their second step was to force those products out of the marketplace.
CHARLES: Wilkens says mandatory labeling of GMOs suggests that those foods are inferior or unsafe, and that's simply not true, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food companies and farm groups lobbied Congress to stop any mandatory GMO-labeling laws, like the one in Vermont. That proposal passed the House, but not the Senate, and the two sides then settled on a compromise bill. It does nullify Vermont's law, but it still requires a form of GMO labeling.
Under this compromise, food companies will have to reveal whether their products contain GMO ingredients. But they won't have to print it right on the package label. Instead, they can make that information available through a so-called QR code, those little square barcode-type things that you see on airline boarding passes. Shoppers would have to scan it with their smartphones. This bill has now passed Congress, and President Obama is expected to sign it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will write the rules for these new labels. But the GMO labeling battle is not over. Scott Faber says the battle will shift from Congress to the marketplace. His pro-labeling coalition will try to mobilize consumers and continue to demand that companies print those GMO details right on the package. Dan Charles, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.