UVM study: Consumers are not `scared away' by GMO products

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A University of Vermont study shows that consumers don't pay attention to GMO labeling on food products.

People are just as likely to purchase foods with GMO labels as they are to purchase non-GMO products, according to the study, debunking a theory that warning labels would deter consumers from buying foods with ingredients with genetically modified organisms.

The study led by UVM professor of applied economics Jane Kolodinsky, released in Science Advances, uses Vermont as a case study in understanding the way labelling affects the way consumers interact with food products that have GMO labeling.

"What we're seeing is that simple disclosures, like the ones implemented in Vermont, are not going to scare people away from these products," Kolodinsky said.

Kolodinsky is a consumer economist who has spent a large part of her career specifically focusing on the relationship between consumers and food choices. She co-authored the study with Purdue professor of agricultural economics Jayson Lusk.

Before the publication of Kolodinsky's findings, grocery companies and manufacturers who opposed the mandate assumed that consumers would be less likely to buy food products that had a GMO label.

"There were a lot of assertions, and we needed a concrete answer," Kolodinsky said.

Lusk, who originally believed GMO labelsing would likely affect sales, posted on his blog about his shifted opinion after the empirical data was published.

"Several years ago, I was decidedly in the camp that thought imposition of mandatory labels would cause people to be more concerned about GMOs because it would signal that something was unsafe about the technology," he states in the blog.

He goes on to say that despite his philosophical differences with Kolodinsky he was interested in studying this on an "empirical" level.

"Our findings suggest that people will be somewhat less opposed than they were prior to labels," Lusk concludes.

Vermont passed a law in 2014 requiring the labelling of GMO foods and was sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The Vermont Attorney General's office spent $2 million defending the state law.

In response to consumer demand and the state law, many food manufacturers voluntarily implemented a GMO labeling system.

A new federal law was enacted in 2016 that required manufacturers to list a 1-800 number or a digital code on labels on all food products that may contain GMOs, effectively overriding Vermont's GMO labeling requirement.

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