Thursday, December 3, 2015

Grocers Launch Alternative to GMO Labeling

Written by M. Sean High - Staff Attorney

On December 2, 2015, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) announced the launching of a technology initiative designed to provide consumers with detailed product information via the internet.  According to GMA, the new technology, known as SmartLable, has been created as a result of a collaboration of manufacturers and retailers, and will allow consumers the ability to receive detailed information on products ranging from food, beverage, pet care, personal care, as well as household items. 

The way SmartLabel works is that a product included in the system will have its own online “landing page” that provides detailed information about that product.  Information to be provided will include “nutritional information, ingredients, allergens, third-party certifications, social compliance programs, usage instructions, advisories and safe handling instructions and company/brand information along with other pertinent information about the product.”

To access the SmartLabel information regarding a particular product, consumers can scan the product with their smartphone, visit a participating company’s website, or simply type the product name into an online search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing.  Eventually, a SmartLabel app is to be released.  For consumers that lack a smartphone or access to the internet, GMA stated that many retailers will assist shoppers “via their customer service desks in stores.”

According to GMA, “[m]ore than 30 of the nation’s major food, beverage and consumer products companies already are committed to using SmartLabel to provide detailed information about their products.” Significantly, GMA stated that SmartLabel will begin at the end of 2015 and that 30,000 products are projected to be included in the system by 2017.  Furthermore, GMA anticipates that within five years, 80% of all related products will be available for review through the SmartLabel system.

GMA board chairman J.P Bilbrey (who is also chairman, president, and CEO of The Hershey Company) stated, that “[p]eople’s relationship with food has changed dramatically and consumers now want to know more about their food” and that SmatLabel “is what real food transparency is about.” To that end, GMA asserted that by the end of 2017, SmartLabel will identify “whether 20,000 food products do, may or do not contain ingredients sourced form genetically engineered (GE) crops, commonly known as GMOs.” GMA further opined that the number of identified food products “could triple once a uniform national standard is set for GMOs.”

Finally, GMA declared that the results of a recent nationwide survey conducted by the Benson Strategy Group, indicating that 75% of consumers would likely use SmartLabel, serves to demonstrate “that the program will meet a consumer desire for more product information.”  

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