GMO labelling may not discourage consumers: Vermont study

Study finds labelling actually increased 
support in some demographic groups

A new study reveals that GMO labelling would not act as warning labels and scare consumers away from buying products with GMO ingredients.

The five-year study of Vermont residents focuses on the relationship between two primary questions: whether Vermonters are opposed to GMOs in commercially available food products; and if respondents thought products containing GMOs should be labelled.

Results showed no evidence that attitudes toward GMOs 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 per cent of Vermonters reported being opposed to the use of GMO technology in food production and 89 per cent desire labelling of food products containing GMO ingredients.

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Responses varied slightly by demographic groups. For example, given a desire for positive GMO labels, opposition to GMO decreased in people with lower levels of education, in single-parent households, and those earning the highest incomes. Opposition to GMO increases in men and people in the middle-income category. No changes were larger than three percentage points.

“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 of the University of Vermont.

Proponents of the U.S. Senate-bound bill, which if enacted would nullify Vermont’s GMO labelling law that has yet to take effect, argue that mandating labels on foods containing GMOs is misleading, because it suggests to consumers that GMOs are somehow risky to eat. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., co-sponsor of the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, disagrees, saying, “the consumer can decide whether he or she wants to purchase that product. It’s the market that ultimately decides.”

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said the GMO labels were never intended to be a warning, and that Kolodinsky’s study demonstrates that they will not act as such. “But they will provide important information so that consumers who have legitimate health or environmental concerns about GMOs can make informed purchasing decisions,” he added.

Kolodinsky said the findings provide evidence, that in Vermont, GMO food labels would provide consumers with information on which to base 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.

“We need more evidence to determine which position is correct,” Kolodinsky said. “This study adds to the GM labelling evidence by showing that, in the only U.S. state that has passed a mandatory positive GM labelling law, the label will not act as a ‘warning label.’ 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.”

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