In a letter sent directly to the president the renowned civil rights activist called attention to the “serious inequities [in the] GMO labeling legislation.” The bill would allow companies to use QR codes in place of on-package labeling to disclose product information. In the letter Jackson points out the discriminatory nature of such a labeling system;

“100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smart phone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity….There are serious questions of discrimination presented here and unresolved matters of equal protection of the law. I am asking you to veto this bill and to send it back to Congress with instructions to correct this fatal flaw.”

Jesse Jackson, Centre for Food Safety

There are so many issues with using QR codes to convey something a logo can do in the same space. The obvious classism, racism, and ageism are just the start. I’m a young, white, educated iPhone owner and I can’t be troubled to pull my phone out and scan every QR code on the shelf.

I think the emerging technology around QR codes on products to facilitate supply chain transparency, country of origin, and other detailed information about the product is a valuable pursuit and is very different from GMO disclosure. In most cases the information provided to the consumer by scanning these QR codes is considerably more detailed, including, as is the case of VG Meats sold at Longos in Toronto, measures of tenderness, recipes, and information about the specific cut of meat. This information is valuable to interested consumers and far exceeds what can be put on a table.

A GMO label, in contrast, is intended to allow the consumer to know whether that product contains GMO ingredients or not, just like the irradiation labelling that is mandatory on all irradiated products.

Yes, GMO and irradiation are complex, and the nuance can’t easily or accurately be conveyed by a mere indicator label. The reality is many people have already formed strong opinions about GMOs and even the well-crafted marketing that would inevitably be linked to by those QR codes is unlikely to change a consumer’s mind.

Of course, the real issue is a fear among manufacturers that explicit GMO labels will deter consumers from purchasing those products, opting instead for those without GMO labels (where an non-GMO alternative exists). This is a very real concern, but I don’t think hiding behind QR codes is the right approach No matter how you slice it this is a weasel tactic that is deceitful and ultimately undermines everything GMO labeling is supposed to facilitate. Just label it properly.