Vermont study: No evidence G.M.O. labels affect views

Results from a University of Vermont study showed no evidence that attitudes toward bioengineered ingredients/genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.s) are strengthened, either positively or negatively, due to a desire for labels indicating a food product contains bioengineered ingredients/G.M.O.s. The study was presented July 27 at the annual conference of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association in San Francisco.

“When you look at consumer opposition to the use of G.M. technologies in food and account for the label, we found that overall the label has no direct impact on opposition,” said Jane Kolodinsky, Ph.D., author of the study and chair of the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics at the University of Vermont. “This is 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 label will work as a warning.”

The Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station funded the University of Vermont study, Dr. Kolodinsky said. The study involved the five years of 2003, 2004, 2008, 2014 and 2015. It included 2,012 responses to a representative, statewide survey of Vermont residents.

On average across all five years of the study, 60% of Vermonters reported being opposed to the use of bioengineered technology in food production and 89% desired labeling of food products containing bioengineered ingredients. The numbers increased after 2003. In 2015, 63% were opposed to the use of bioengineered technology in food production and 92% desired labeling of food products containing bioengineered ingredients.

The study’s analysis predicted how different demographic groups will react to labeling, Dr. Kolodinsky said. For some demographic groups, confidence in bioengineered technology is predicted to go up with labels, but in other demographic groups, confidence is predicted to go down. None of the impacts is greater than 3 percentage points either way, she said.

The state of Vermont has a labeling law, Act 120, scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2016. It will require food intended for humans and offered for retail sale in Vermont to be labeled as genetically engineered if it is produced entirely or in part from genetic engineering.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599), if it becomes law, could prevent Vermont’s law from going into effect. The U.S. House of Representatives on July 23 of this year approved H.R. 1599, which aims to provide national uniformity regarding the labeling of food derived from genetically engineered plants and to prevent a patchwork of conflicting state or local labeling laws that supporters believe threatens to interfere with interstate and foreign commerce.