Court ruled against USDA’s GMO QR code labeling requiring additional on-package labeling

“Today’s decision marks a key step toward ending the food industry’s deceptive and discriminatory GMO food labeling practices, which have kept consumers in the dark by concealing what’s in their products.”

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QR codes on labels of genetically engineered foods was ruled unlawful by a United States District Court this week. The United States Department of Agriculture is now required by a judge to add additional information and disclosure options to GMO foods under the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, which was passed in 2018.

The Center for Food Safety, which filed the lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2020 on behalf of a coalition of nonprofit organizations and retailers regarding QR code labeling, called the ruling a victory after an almost 20 year campaign for a federal GMO labeling law.

“This is a victory for all Americans,” Meredith Stevenson, Center for Food Safety (CFS) staff attorney and counsel in the case, said. “Today’s decision marks a key step toward ending the food industry’s deceptive and discriminatory GMO food labeling practices, which have kept consumers in the dark by concealing what’s in their products.”

The court ruled that USDA’s decision to only allow for electronic or digital disclosure on packaging, also known as “QR code” or “smartphone” labeling, and no additional on-package labeling, was a “significant error,” the Center for Food and Safety reported. The USDA was in violation of the law in allowing QR codes only on packaging when the agency found them to be “insufficient,” the court ruled.

The court wrote that “in mandating a study on the accessibility of the electronic disclosure, and directing the USDA to act only if the electronic disclosure was determined to be inaccessible, Congress clearly intended for the USDA to provide ‘additional and comparable options’ to improve the accessibility of the electronic disclosure method.”

The USDA is now required by law to revise portions of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and add additional disclosure options to QR codes on GMO food packaging.

“This is a win for the American family,” Alan Lewis, vice president advocacy & governmental affairs for Natural Grocers, said. “They can now make fully informed shopping decisions instead of being forced to use detective work to understand what food labels are hiding. The public’s rejection of hidden GMOs has been weighed by the Court to be greater than the agrochemical industry’s desire to hide GMOs behind incomprehensible bureaucratic rules.”

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