Study Assesses Consumer Reaction To GMO Labels

Jul 29, 2015

A new study released by a University of Vermont researcher has found that consumers do not consider GMO labels warnings, nor do the labels prevent purchases of the products.

The study: “An Investigation of the Endogeneity of Attitudes Towards Genetic Modification and Demand for GM Food Labels,” is authored by Jane Kolodinsky, professor and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont.  

The study assesses five years of data between 2003 and 2015 from surveys of 2,012 Vermont residents. It asks if Vermonters are opposed to GMO’s in commercially available food products; and if they think products containing GMO’s should be labeled.  Among the findings: 60 percent of Vermonters are opposed to the use of GMO’s in food and 89 percent want food products containing GMO ingredients labeled.  Kolodinsky presented the results at a conference in California this week.  

According to UVM, she told the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association that “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.”

Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association President Jim Harrison, whose group is publicly neutral on the state’s GMO labeling law, says it’s hard to draw conclusions from one study done over a number of years.   “We probably will never know what it means to consumers until there’s actual disclosure or labeling on packaging. It shouldn’t make any difference and I would agree with the results of the study in that according to their research it didn’t make any difference. But none-the-less we’ll never really know until you actually put things on a label and customers actually notice them.”

Vermont Public Interest Research Group Consumer Protection Advocate Falco Schilling says labels simply provide consumers with factual information.   “It just gives them that information.  It’s not going to influence their views of genetic engineering overall.  It just lets them make informed decisions.”

Last week, the U.S. House passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act – which opponents have dubbed the DARK Act or Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act on a vote of 275 to 150.  The bill would block individual states from requiring GMO labeling and create a voluntary system managed by the FDA.  Shilling hopes the survey influences debate in the Senate.   “We’re greatly disappointed that the House moved forward with legislation that would stop Vermonters from getting factual information about the food that they’re buying. We hope this new research drives the debate to a place where they understand that we’re just trying to give consumers factual information so they can make informed decisions.”

Jim Harrison believes if GMO labeling occurs it must be a national uniform system.   “The legislation that Congress is looking at and was passed by the House does look at a national uniform standard. We can agree or disagree on whether or not it goes far enough but in terms of labeling these types of ingredients we should have one standard nationally.”

Vermont’s GMO labeling law is being challenged in court.  It is scheduled to take effect July 1, 2016.