Survey Shows Vermont GMO Label Misleads Consumers

Jul 06, 2016

A recent online survey of 1,665 online primary shoppers examined consumer understanding of five common on-pack food labels, and found that on-pack labeling of genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) strongly misleads consumers. The American Soybean Association (ASA) points to the data as evidence of the potential impact of the approach in Vermont, which is now five days in to the implementation of its labeling law.

When consumers were asked about the GMO label statements mandated by the Vermont law, the survey showed that 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 approximately 73% of consumers indicated they would be less likely to buy foods bearing one of the required on-pack GMO label disclosures.

The data come from a large consumer survey conducted June 13-21, 2016 by the MSR Group and sponsored by ASA and fellow food and agriculture trade associations, including the 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 on-pack GMO disclosure 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.

Consumer perceptions varied significantly by age group. Using the Vermont law’s “produced with genetic engineering” disclosure 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).

ASA and its partner associations that commissioned the large consumer perception survey issued the following joint statement:

“The survey demonstrates that the Vermont on-pack 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 compromise bill now pending in the U.S. Senate would preempt the inappropriate Vermont GMO labeling law and permit GMO disclosure without the on-pack labeling that is so misleading and disparaging to consumers.

“With shocking clarity, the survey results demonstrate why food companies would be pressured to switch to non-GMO ingredients to avoid the requirement of on-pack GMO label disclosure and potential conflicting multi-state labeling requirements. Switching away from GMO ingredients is the key assumption of a recent economic analysis that concluded the Vermont on-pack GMO label law would increase food costs for the average American household by approximately $1,050 annually. The Roberts Stabenow bill would avoid the 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 multiple means, including an internet link that would allow food companies to include informative statements that educate, rather than mislead, consumers. Since the Roberts Stabenow compromise is the only viable legislative option to preempt the Vermont GMO labeling law, the survey results strongly suggest support for the Roberts Stabenow compromise.”