Mandatory labels reduce GMO food fears

June 27, 2018, University of Vermont
As national regulators work to develop mandatory GMO food labels, new research by UVM's Jane Kolodinsky finds that consumer opposition to GMOs dropped significantly after Vermont adopted mandatory labels. Credit: ©Sally McCay, UVM Photo

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture prepares guidelines for labeling products that contain genetically modified ingredients, a new study from the University of Vermont reveals that a simple disclosure can improve consumer attitudes toward GMO food.

Led by Jane Kolodinsky, an applied economist in UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the study compared levels of consumer opposition to GMO foods in Vermont—the only U.S. state to have implemented a mandatory labeling policy—with consumer attitudes in the rest of the U.S. The analysis showed opposition to GMO food fell by 19% in Vermont after the implementation of mandatory labels.

The study is the first to examine the real-world impact of consumer attitudes toward GMO foods in a state where were exposed to mandatory GMO labels.

"Our findings put to bed the idea that GMO labels will be seen as a warning ," said Kolodinsky, professor and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics and a Fellow of UVM's Gund Institute for the Environment. "What we're seeing is that simple disclosures, like the ones implemented in Vermont, are not going to scare people away from these products."

National debate

Published today in Science Advances, the research provides timely new evidence in a longstanding national debate over the impact of mandatory GMO labeling policies on consumer attitudes.

Several studies, including past research by Kolodinsky, show consumers consistently express a desire for labels on GMO foods, but mandatory labeling has been opposed by some manufacturers and scientific organizations for fear that the labels would be perceived as warning signs and might signal that a product is unsafe or harmful to the environment.

Despite numerous scientific studies that have shown that GMO foods are safe, nationwide, the majority of consumers express opposition to the use of GMO technologies, a trend that has been steadily increasing over the past decade.

As national regulators work to develop mandatory GMO food labels, new research by UVM's Jane Kolodinsky finds that consumer opposition to GMOs dropped significantly after Vermont adopted mandatory labels. Credit: ©Sally McCay, UVM Photo

"We're finding that both in real-world and hypothetical studies, the introduction of a simple disclosure label can actually improve toward these technologies. In a state that has been such a hot bed for GMO opposition, to see this change is striking," said Kolodinsky, who has tracked attitudes to GMOs in Vermont since 2003.

Kolodinsky's latest study, with co-author Jayson Lusk of Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics, suggests a simple, straightforward label disclosing whether a product is "produced or partially produced using GMO ingredients" may improve consumer confidence in GMO technologies and enable consumers to make an informed decision.

However, proposed national labeling regulations released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in May, seek a narrower definition of genetic engineering and propose alternatives to simple labeling disclosures. The draft guidelines also propose changing the labeling terminology from GMO to "bioengineered" or "BE", a new descriptor for genetic engineering that is unfamiliar to most of the general public.

The USDA has invited public comments on the draft guidance through July 3, 2018.

Vermont as a case study

While several states introduced bills to require labeling of GMO foods, Vermont became the first and only U.S. state to implement a mandatory labeling initiative in July 2016 before the new federal legislation came into effect.

Kolodinsky, who collected data on Vermonters' attitudes toward GMO food before and after the labeling policy was implemented, combined her results with Lusk's national data. Taken together, the study analyzed attitudes of over 7,800 consumers from 2014-2017 who ranked their toward GMO food using a one to five scale. When controlling for demographic factors, opposition to genetic engineering fell significantly in Vermont after mandatory labeling, whereas opposition continued to increase nationwide.

"One of the concerns many people, including myself, expressed about mandating GMO labels is that consumers might see the label as a type of warning signal and increase aversion to the label. This research shows that this particular concern about mandatory GMO labels is likely misplaced," said co-author Lusk.

Kolodinsky and Lusk note the findings are consistent with prior research that suggest "labels give consumers a sense of control, which has been shown to be related to risk perception." Indeed, some food manufacturers, including General Mills and Campbells, continue to voluntarily label GMO products citing consumer demand for transparency.

Explore further: Consumers don't view GMO labels as negative 'warnings', new study shows

More information: J. Kolodinsky at University of Vermont in Burlington, VT el al., "Mandatory labels can improve attitudes toward genetically engineered food," Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaq1413 , advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/6/eaaq1413

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13 comments

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dogbert
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 27, 2018
Resistance to GMO food has various reasons, but large among those reasons is the undeniable fact that the producers of GMO food and the food manufacturers using GMO products are adamantly opposed to disclosure.

The feeling is that "If you won't let me make an informed decision, it is because my decision would be to reject your produce if I were fully informed."

Secrecy breeds distrust.
Da Schneib
3 / 5 (4) Jun 27, 2018
Personally I avoid foods that claim to be non-GMO when a GMO alternative is available. GMOs now feed a billion people who would starve if they were not available. I'm considering making an exception for corn; GMO corn is pretty shitty as corn-on-the-cob. Tough, salty, and nasty. Maybe if they made the breeders actually eat the corn they'd get that fixed.
dogbert
5 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2018
Da Schneib,
I don't know where you are getting your figures of a billion people who are alive due to GMO crops (and I would like to see the data you drew that conclusion from), but just because we produce GMO crops does not mean that people would starve without the GMO crops. We would still make crops without GMO intervention. Look only to Europe where GMO crops have been banned and you will see excellent crops without GMOs.
24volts
1 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2018
Dogbert, there probably isn't a single food out there that people eat that hasn't been genetically modified in one way or another. Either through gene science as being used now or simple interbreeding for valuable traits as has been done for at least a 1000 years by people.
dogbert
5 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2018
Gene modified is not in any sense equivalent to breeding for traits.
You know this and pretending they are equivalent is another deception which gives people reason to reject GMO food .
24volts
1 / 5 (2) Jun 27, 2018
I don't agree and I'm not pretending anything. While I don't think they should put crap in that causes the plants that kill bugs all by themselves where the plants didn't have the capability originally the end results by breeding or meddling by scientists is that almost all food plants have been gene-modified and science is much faster getting the traits we want than trying to breed various strains over many years. The crops in Europe may not have been modified by scientists but they have been modified over the years by breeding all the same.
I'm sorry but I simply don't see any big difference there.
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Jun 28, 2018
db, I'm curious. How the hell do you "breed for traits" without mixing up the genetics during sexual reproduction?

You really want to go back to the Lysenkoism of the eugenic pseudosciences?

After all the damage to canine breeds and setting racehorses onto the knife's edge of extinction?

I say compromise. Have strict monitoring and regulation of genetic engineering. Instead of the Wild West sooner's stampede to make a fast buck. Which is the process today.

You have good reasons to be concerned. So does everyone trying to feed their family. Guess who wins that argument? And most of them are too poor to shop at Gelson's or Trader Joe's.
antigoracle
4 / 5 (4) Jun 28, 2018
The harmful effects, if any, of GMO foods may not be known for decades. Many of these GMO crops are engineered to be resistant to herbicides and pesticides and some even have these traits built in and this is the real and immediate danger. There is also the longer term issue where many of our foods are owned by corporations.
ZoeBell
Jun 28, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ZoeBell
Jun 28, 2018
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ZoeBell
Jun 29, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 30, 2018
After all the damage to canine breeds and setting racehorses onto the knife's edge of extinction?
My god. Dogs and domestic horses were created through selective breeding. Why dont you know enough to keep your mouth shut?
rrwillsj
1 / 5 (1) Jul 01, 2018
Okay otto, selective breeding for which traits? Volunteer at an animal shelter and you will see the pathetic results of "breeding for traits". Chronic health problems. spontaneous miscarriages of deformed pups and kits. GOP level stupidity bred into pets, to the extent thy are incapable of socializing with either other animals or people. It was a damn depressing experience the six months I assisted.

As for race horses? You would drool at the medical technology devoted to subsidizing the gambling industry. The investment in expensive high-tech is all that keeps the horses on the tracks.
Well you should wish such medical care was available for your old feeble bones!

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