Johnson Discusses Recent Ruling on Use of QR Codes for GMO Disclosures

Food and beverage publication Nosh has quoted Shook Of Counsel John Johnson III in an article about a recent ruling that food manufacturers cannot solely use QR codes to disclose that their products contain bioengineered ingredients.

Under a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule that took effect in January, food manufacturers are required to disclose the GMO status of their products to consumers in the form of a text, symbol or electronic or digital link on product packaging. USDA also allowed food manufacturers to pair a text message hotline with a QR code on product packaging so that consumers could text the number or scan the code to receive the product’s disclosure information.

Retailers and non-profit groups challenged the rule in federal court in California, leading a judge to determine that USDA’s decision to allow for electronic or digital-only disclosure was a “significant error.” The regulation will next return to the agency for review.

Johnson told Nosh the decision raises questions about the accessibility of QR codes, but many of those questions were pre-existing. He also cautioned against viewing the ruling as having application beyond the immediate case.

“My caution would be comparing [this to other disclosures] since this was a very narrow question,” he said. “So much of the other food labeling requirements – statement of identity ingredients, nutrition labeling – those all come from the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which has its own statutory elements and requirements … instead of making any broad strokes I’d say this was a highly nuanced statutory discussion.”