While acknowledging some notable challenges, a recent USDA study concluded that most consumers seeking information on their food purchases would be able to access this information, given the proper education and tools to do so. The study, required under the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard signed into law in July 2016 and conducted by Deloitte, identified potential technological challenges that may impact whether consumers would have access to bioengineered food disclosure through electronic or digital disclosure methods.

Although researchers observed key technological challenges that prevented nearly all participants in the study from obtaining the information through electronic or digital disclosure methods, the study asserted that the challenges could be overcome through appropriate implementation of the law.

Challenges identified by the study include the following:

  • Consumers did not recognize the on-package digital link or did not associate it with food information. Perhaps more troubling, retailers also were unfamiliar with digital links and therefore were not able to assist consumers.
  • Researchers found that 12 percent of interested consumers faced challenges in accessing the tools needed to scan a link, and none of the retailers visited across the country provided scanners.
  • Many of the hundreds of scanning apps available on the market are not intuitive to use, causing confusion and difficulty in opening link results. Researchers directly observed 85 percent of consumers struggling with apps, regardless of their comfort level with technology.
  • Challenges related to broadband connectivity and connection speed also was voiced by 16 percent of consumers.

The study identified three recommendations for government and interested parties to improve access for consumers facing challenges.

  1. Education for consumers and retailers around electronic and digital disclosure links and bioengineered foods would improve access and understanding.
  2. Providing the bioengineered disclosure through phone, text message, or other offline options would increase access for consumers who lack smartphones or broadband access.
  3. Ease the consumer experience through the development of user-friendly scanner apps.

Researchers concluded that, as the National Bioengineered Disclosure Standard law is implemented, USDA and interested groups can work together to make the disclosure properly accessible to the American public.

Outlook

Despite the study being released a little over a month late, there has been no indication on how it might impact the implementation deadline of July 29, 2018 required under the law, a deadline with which USDA has indicated it intends to comply. The fact that consumer groups promptly filed a lawsuit after the study deadline passed serves as an early indicator that all aspects of USDA’s implementation of the law will remain under close scrutiny and, in all likelihood, the subject of additional litigation.