STUDENT BLOG: Study of Electronic or Digital Link Disclosure as Mandated by the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard
- Posted by Admin
- On October 24, 2017
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- Agriculture, Bioengineered, food policy, GMO, Internet, National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, QR codes, technology, USDA
By Sabrina Kim, University of Virginia
On September 6, 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the results of a study titled “Study of Electronic or Digital Link Disclosure, A Third-Party Evaluation of Challenges Impacting Access to Bioengineered Food Disclosure.” This study was intended to assess the feasibility of electronic and digital disclosure methods as a way to indicate a bioengineered product, in compliance with the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard* (Statement, n.d.). The study found that this option posed a potential challenge to consumers and indicated that additional steps including expanding Internet access and educational campaigns are necessary for proper implementation of disclosing bioengineered foods electronically.
This study was congressionally mandated after the passage of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard on July 29, 2016, which required the food industry to disclose the presence of bioengineered food via text, symbol, or Internet link. The language mandated an investigation to identify potential technological challenges that might prohibit a consumer from accessing this information electronically (National Bioengineered, 2016).
The results suggested multiple areas of improvement. For example, many consumers failed to associate the presence of a digital link with information surrounding food, often discounting it as a marketing or sales initiative. This, combined with the rapidly evolving nature of digital codes, led to the recommendation of an educational campaign designed to increase consumer awareness of the purpose of these links (Study, 2017).
Furthermore, the use of digital codes requires that consumers have compatible devices such as smartphones, since many retailers do not provide scanning equipment for their customers to use. Currently, 23% of Americans do not own a smartphone and may rely on landlines for their communication. This presents a large information barrier for this population. Even those with viable smartphones may not understand which apps can process the digital code, or may not have adequate storage or connection to download these apps.
The study recommended various methods that the USDA can use to remediate these technology-related problems. These include the development or endorsement of a particular scanning app to reduce confusion, as well as the use of offline options in the form of a text message or landline-based phone number (Study, 2017). All of the suggestions are designed to maximize transparency surrounding the sale of bioengineered food in the digital age without alienating low-tech, rural, or otherwise inhibited consumers.
* “The Law requires that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) establish a national mandatory bioengineered food disclosure standard for any bioengineered food and any food that may be bioengineered, and set requirements and procedures to carry out the standard by July 29, 2018.” (Study, 2017).
National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Act (2016, July 29). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Final%20Bill%20S764%20GMO%20Discosure.pdf
Statement of Objectives for Study of Electronic or Digital Link Disclosure (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/USDADeloitteStudyofElectronicorDigitalDisclosure20170801.pdf
Study of Electronic or Digital Link Disclosure (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/USDADeloitteStudyofElectronicorDigitalDisclosure20170801.pdf