The law went into effect on July 1st, 2016, which means enough time has passed that customer opinions about the labels and the products they adorn have leveled out. Perfect time for a study!
Jane Kolodinsky, an economist at the University of Vermont, conducted thousands of phone interviews with Vermonters to understand attitudes about GMO food. The big fear with the GMO labels – most, though not all, of which come from the producers of foods containing GMO ingredients – is that a label could create customer fear. GMOs have never been proven to be any more dangerous than any other food, but the lack of food education in this country could, say opponents, mean that consumers are unfairly biased against them.
According to the study, this is not the case. Results showed that opposition to GMOs actually decreased by 19 percent since the labels went into effect. In other words: the label didn’t scare off Vermonters at all. It might have even reduced fears.
Since 2016, Vermont products containing GMO materials have carried a small label, usually under the list of ingredients, reading either “Produced with Genetic Engineering” or “Partially Produced with Genetic Engineering.” I asked Kolodinsky whether this phrasing, which does not include the better-known “GMO” or “Genetically Modified Organism,” might impact opinions.
In her answer, Kolodinsky referred to the USDA’s proposal for labeling foods with genetically modified ingredients: “The Federal proposed guidelines both change the vocabulary from GE, GMO or genetic engineering to a word that consumers are not familiar with, BE or bio-engineering,” she wrote in an email. “The new labels may not have the intended aim of informing consumers if consumers do not understand the new vocabulary stands for genetic engineering.” So, yes, the fact that the label uses a phrase other than “GMO” is probably an issue.
The proposed federal labels use the word “Bioengineered,” and this word is situated in a logo featuring a happy smiling sun, so that issue may not be going away anytime soon.