Labeling may actually reduce opposition to GMOs among some demographic groups
FRISCO — A new Vermont study suggests that consumers don’t necessarily see GMO lables on food as a negative warning. In some cases, such labels may actually increase consumer confidence, the researchers said after analyzing five years worth of data.
A new study released just days after the U.S. House passed a bill that would prevent states from requiring labels on genetically modified foods reveals that GMO labeling would not act as warning labels and scare consumers away from buying products with GMO ingredients.
The statewide survey was focused on two key questions: whether Vermonters are opposed to GMO’s in commercially available food products; and if respondents thought products containing GMO’s should be labeled.
The findings showed that attitudes toward GMO’s are strengthened in either a positive or negative way due to a desire for labels that indicate the product contains GM ingredients. On average across all five years of the study, 60 percent of Vermonters reported being opposed to the use of GMO technology in food production and 89 percent desire labeling of food products containing GMO ingredients. These numbers have been increasing slightly since 2003. In 2015, the percentages were 63 and 92 percent, respectively.
As they broke down the numbers demographically, the researchers found less opposition to GMO foods among groups with lower levels of education, in single parent households, and those earning the highest incomes. Opposition to GMO food ingredients increases in men and people in the middle-income category. No changes were larger than three percentage points.
Presenting her findings at a recent conference, Kolodinsky said the results show that GMO labels would simply give consumers more information about their purchasing decisions. Consumers who wish to avoid GMO ingredients would do so, she added, and those who either want GMO ingredients or are indifferent can also make that choice.
“The label would not signal to consumers that GMO ingredients are inferior to those produced using other agricultural production methods,” she said.
“When you look at consumer opposition to the use of GM technologies in food and account for the label, we found that overall the label has no direct impact on opposition. And it increased support for GM in some demographic groups,” said Jane Kolodinsky, author of the study and professor and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont.
“This was not what I hypothesized based on the reasoning behind the introduction of The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling bill. We didn’t find evidence that the labels will work as a warning,” she said. “When only the label is considered, it has no impact on consumer opposition. And there is some evidence that the label will increase consumer confidence in GM technology among certain groups.”
Backers of the anti-labeling law passed last month by the U.S. House of Representatives say a labeling requirement implies that there’s a risk associated with GMO food ingredients, but the study results don’t support that argument.
On the other side, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., co-sponsor of the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, disagrees, saying last week that, “the consumer can decide whether he or she wants to purchase that product. It’s the market that ultimately decides.”
Vermont is the only state so far to adopt a GMO labeling law, which hasn’t taken effect yet. Supporters say the requirement isn’t intended as a warming. They said the study shows that labels would work as intended, so that consumers who have legitimate health or environmental concerns about GMOs can make informed purchasing decisions.