Popular mobile food app adds GMO feature

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetically modified organism

Fooducate, a mobile app launched last year to help grocery store shoppers quickly look up nutrition and other product info via bar code scans, has added a GMO feature, the developers announced Monday.

“The idea here is to have a very timely response when consumer interest is at a peak,”​ Hemi Weingarten, founder and CEO of Fooducate​, told NutraIngredients-USA. “It’s been out for about a week but it’s been a quiet launch.”

California’s Proposition 37, which mandates that foods containing GMO ingredients be so labeled, goes to a vote on Nov. 6.  Recent polls show it is likely to pass.

“We wanted to have something that consumers could use regards of what happens on the vote. We know that even if the ballot proposal is approved it will take a while before people will actually see anything on labels,”​ he said.

App has generated lots of interest

Fooducate, based in the San Francisco Bay area, launched its app about two years ago for the iPhone and about a year later for the Android operating system.  Users can also use the Fooducate website to look up all of the same info that appears on the mobile devices.

The standard Fooducate app links to information on more than 200,000 unique food products.  It includes nutrition information and assigns letter grades, and gives users recommendations on healthier alternatives. Fooducate’s iPhone app was selected by Apple as the best health app of 2011, and garnered national press attention with articles in The New York Times​ and the Wall Street Journal​ among others.

“The app is doing fantastically well; it is very well received ,”​ Weingarten said.  He was coy about the number of downloads to date but did say “it’s in the millions.”

GMO rankings

The GMO portion of the app works like this:  After registered users activate a “Warn me about GMOs” feature, the app will grade ingredients connected to the scanned barcodes on the following scale:

1. Products that are Non-GMO will appear with an all clear Non-GMO label.
2. Products whose ingredients include likely GMOs, for example corn and soy, will be labeled as GMO - High Probability.
3. Products whose ingredients include potential GMOs, such as beets, will be labeled as GMO - Medium Probability.
4. Users that prefer a product that is non GMO can tap the alternatives button to choose similar, but non-GMO products.

The GMO information will be added as it becomes available, Weingarten said, saying that the info comes from manufacturers, the NonGMO Project and elsewhere.  It is a work in progress, he said.

Right to know

While Fooducate is not a corporate supporter of the Right to Know group that advocates for Prop 37, Weingarten said, as individuals the company’s employees are in favor of the initiative.

“I think a lot of the people who say that they are against Prop. 37 miss the main point. If Prop 37 goes through it will start a snowball that will be very hard to stop,”​ he said.

“I don’t know if GMOs are harmful or not but I sure would like to have the ability to make a decision based on knowing whether a product has GMOs or not.”

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