A survey of 1,665 online primary shoppers examined consumer understanding of five common on-pack food labels, and found that Vermont’s mandated on-pack labeling of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) strongly misleads consumers.

When consumers were asked about the three GMO label statements mandated by the Vermont law, Act 120, (“partially produced with genetic engineering,” “may be produced with genetic engineering,” and “produced with genetic engineering”) the survey showed that the on-pack labeling misled substantial percentages of consumers to wrongly perceive the labeled product as less safe, less healthful, less nutritious, and worse for the environment. The Vermont label requirements are so disparaging to consumer perceptions of products that an average of 73% of consumers indicated they would be less likely to buy foods bearing the required on-pack GMO label.

The large consumer survey was conducted from Jun 13-21, 2016 by the MSR Group and sponsored by a group of food and agriculture trade associations, including the American Soybean Association, Corn Refiners Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Grain and Feed Association, and SNAC International. The five food labels tested were common food label statements related to trans-fat, allergens, gluten, organic, and GMOs.

Key Takeaways

The Vermont GMO label requirements are powerfully disparaging.  The Vermont mandated GMO label statement caused approximately —

  • 36% of consumers to incorrectly perceive the food to be “less safe.”
  • 28% of consumers to incorrectly perceive the food to be “less healthful.”
  • 22% of consumers to incorrectly perceive the food to be “less nutritious.”
  • 20% of consumers to incorrectly perceive the food to be “worse for the environment.”
  • 73% of consumers to be less likely to buy the food.

Label statements have greatest impact on consumer purchasing decisions.

  • 52% mentioned food and beverage labels as a source of information that most influences purchase decisions, while 42% rely on friends and family, and 32% rely on their physician.

Consumer perceptions varied significantly by age group.  Using the “produced with genetic engineering” label option to illustrate, consumer perception that the labeled product is –

  • “less safe” ranged from 48% (18-34 years old) to 27% (35-44 years old).
  • “less nutritious” ranged from 45% (18-24 years old) to 7% (65+ years old).
  • “less healthful” ranged from 41% (18-24 years old) to 18% (65+ years old).
  • “worse for the environment” ranged from 32% (25-34 years old) to 13% (55+ years old).

Consumers negatively perceive GMOs.

Vermont’s mandatory GMO label statements are perceived as confirmation of existing consumer misunderstandings and bias, failing to educate consumers on the real facts —

  • 51% of respondents stated a negative definition of genetic engineering when asked what it meant in their own words.
  • 52% believe the use of GMO crops in food and beverages is negative.

How does this study relate to the pending Roberts Stabenow GMO labeling compromise?

  • The survey demonstrates that the Vermont GMO labeling law that is effectively setting GMO labeling policy for interstate commerce is misleading to consumers and powerfully disparaging of a safe, environmentally appropriate technology. The Roberts Stabenow bill would preempt the inappropriate Vermont GMO labeling law.
  • The survey results demonstrate why food companies would be pressured to switch to non-GMO ingredients to avoid the requirement of a GMO label and avoid conflicting multi-state labeling requirements, which is the key assumption of a recent economic analysis that concluded the Vermont GMO label law would increase food costs for the average American household by approximately $1,050 annually. The Roberts Stabenow bill would preempt the inappropriate Vermont GMO labeling law’s disparagement of biotechnology and attendant steep increase in consumer food prices.
  • While the survey did not test specific GMO disclosure options under the Roberts Stabenow bill, that legislation would authorize disclosure through an internet link that would allow sufficient space for informative statements that educate, rather than mislead, consumers. Since the Roberts Stabenow bill is the only viable legislative option to preempt the Vermont GMO labeling law, the survey results strongly suggest support for the Roberts Stabenow compromise.”

Methodology

The survey was conducted from June 13-21, 2016 with online survey participants evenly distributed across the four US Census Regions, representing household primary grocery shoppers who passed standard screening to exclude those employed in industries such as advertising, marketing, food and beverage production, or policy-making which may have an immediate bias toward certain labels statements Participants were recruited from a national survey panel.

For additional information regarding the survey, contact: Andy Resnick, Corn Refiners Association, AResnick@corn.org or 202-534-3501