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Vilsack: Smartphones Could Tell Consumers What's in Food

12:47PM Feb 27, 2015

Consumers using smart phones to scan special codes or symbols on food packages could head off the debate between the food industry and those pushing for labels identifying genetically modified organisms, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

The Food and Drug Administration handles most food-package labeling, so Vilsack's idea isn't an official proposal. But the agriculture secretary suggested it could be viable solution in testimony before Congress Wednesday.

"Industry could solve that issue in a heartbeat," Vilsack said.

Scott Faber, head of the national Just Label It campaign, however, disagreed. "Consumers shouldn't have to have a high-tech smart phone and a 10-gigabyte data plan to know what's in their food," Faber said.

Vilsack has mentioned the idea before, but he said it could have new life as Congress becomes more involved in the issue. A Republican House bill would block any further state efforts to require GMO package labels. Last year Vermont became the first state to pass a law to requiring the labeling.

Vilsack said some food companies have been receptive to his idea, though he didn't name any. A spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the food industry, said the group is "actively discussing ways to further provide consumers with this important information."

Genetically modified seeds are engineered to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides or certain plant diseases. The majority of the country's corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Modified corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like corn oil, corn starch, high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.