iStock-622205132_Grocery-Shoppers_RET_50P-12 - Copy

Unexpected consumer reactions to mandated GMO labeling

Federal legislation mandates the labeling of foods with genetically engineered (GE) ingredients (commonly called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) by 2020. Jayson Lusk, distinguished professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, wanted to test how consumers would respond to this labeling. His recently published findings surprised many — including him.

Co-authored with Jane Kolodinsky, University of Vermont, the paper utilizes Vermont as a critical source of data. In 2014, the state became the first to pass legislation requiring mandatory labels on genetically engineered food. Lusk and Kolodinsky compared the attitudes of Vermont’s citizens over a two-year period to those held in the rest of the country, where GE food labeling remained optional.

Before the study, many in the food industry assumed GE food labels would scare off consumers, signaling that GMOs were risky or unsafe in some way. Instead, participants from Vermont were less opposed to GE foods than those surveyed in the rest of the nation. Vermont residents’ opposition to GE foods after the mandatory labeling decreased by 19 percent.

In a blog post about the research, Lusk clarified, “Our result does not suggest people will suddenly support GMOs once mandatory labels are in place. Rather, our findings suggest that people will be somewhat less opposed than they were prior to labels.”

Lusk expects this new information will change the way economists, lobbyists and food industry leaders approach the controversial issue.