The Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would require foods containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled as such. The vote marks one step forward for GMO transparency, but supporters of GMO labeling believe the proposed labels will create confusion among consumers, because companies may hide GMO disclosures behind QR codes.
Senators voted 63-30 for GMO labels that can include words, pictures or smartphone-friendly barcodes, Reuters reported. Republican Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas and Democrat Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan sponsored the bill.
The bill's goal is to increase transparency around food and create consistent labeling nationwide by having the U.S. Department of Agriculture determine which ingredients should be considered GMOs.
"This bipartisan bill ensures that consumers and families throughout the United States will have access, for the first time ever, to information about their food through a mandatory, nationwide label for food products with GMOs," Stabenow said in a statement, Reuters reported.
Companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg's, Kraft Heinz Co., Land O'Lakes and General Mills have spent millions lobbying against this bill. In 2015 alone, food lobbies spent $101 million lobbying against GMO labels, Environmental Working Group noted.
But many groups in favor of GMO transparency, including the EWG, are in opposition of the vote in the Senate.
"[The bill] lacks many elements of the national GMO labeling system that EWG has fought for at the state and federal levels. Many of our concerns center around the discretion the legislation gives the Department of Agriculture," the EWG noted in a blog post.
"[The bill] lacks many elements of the national GMO labeling system that EWG has fought for at the state and federal levels."
Ecowatch argued that the bill also revokes the "popular and clear state labeling law in effect" that passed in Vermont. The organization called the bill "incredibly weak" and noted not all consumers have smartphones that will be able to read the QR codes.
Bernie Sanders also condemned the bill. In a tweet, he compared the GMO label on a package of peanut M&Ms that says "partially produced with genetic engineering" with a QR code on a Coca-Cola can.
The bill is also expected to pass in the House of Representatives.