As reported by the Agri-Pulse news feed, a new report is out about consumer acceptance of GMOs, and the results are conflicted and it is easy to figure out why.
On one hand, a survey led by an economist at the University of Vermont’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences found that opposition to GMO food fell almost 20% after the state’s mandatory labeling law was signed into law in 2014 (but never implemented because of the passage of the federal DARK Act). “Our findings put to bed the idea that GMO labels will be seen as a warning label,” says lead researcher Jane Kolodinsky. In science-speak, “simple mandatory disclosure does not increase consumer aversion.”
This study has important implications at the national level, given that USDA is currently working on implementing national GMO labeling requirements, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2016 (aka the “DARK” Act). Proposed national GMO-food labels, released in May, already have one big change. Trump’s USDA is proposing the label terminology “bioengineered” (or BE) as a replacement for the more familiar term “GMO.” (Tactic sound familiar? Recall how Bayer dropped the controversial Monsanto name when they acquired the giant ag biotech company).
A second newly released, industry-funded survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council, assessed consumers response to canola oil bottles that included various forms of a BE label. They report that half of consumers were concerned about human health impacts, increasing slightly as further explanatory text was added. While most consumers had little knowledge of GMOs, almost half said that they avoid GMO foods “at least somewhat.”
These two consumer surveys illustrate how complicated the public perception of GMOs is. On one hand, as Kolodinsky puts it, “labels give consumers a sense of control, which has been shown to be related to risk perception.” So, any labeling might reassure a shopper that they at least KNOW how their food was produced, which seems to increase their comfort level.
However this survey shows that there still appears to be a negative, gut-response to GMO foods from many consumers. This could be linked to one or several different perceptions regarding the safety and impacts of GMOs across the food chain, and in feed/food and the mammals that consume it.
Given the continued flow of new GMO-crops and traits, this issue is surely not going away. The smart money as soon as USDA published a final rule, the litigation will start.
As we discuss in our new section Future of Food, emerging, gene-silencing technologies like CRISPR will likely get a free pass from USDA and avoid labeling requirements, leaving consumers once again uncertain and concerned.
Steve Davies, “Simple labels increase consumer acceptance of GMOs, study finds”, Agri-Pulse, June 27, 2018.
International Food Information Council, “IFIC Foundation Survey: Research with Consumers To Test Perceptions and Reactions To Various Stimuli and Visuals Related to Bioengineered Foods,” June 2018.
Jane Kolodinsky and Jayson Lusk, “Mandatory labels can improve attitudes toward genetically engineered food,” Science Advances, 2018, 4:6, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq1413