ITHACA, NY — Six years ago, the state of Vermont passed what turned out to be a short-lived law requiring the disclosure of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, on all food products. The effect of this law? A collective shrug.
That doesn’t mean people don’t care about the presence of GMO ingredients in their diets, according to a new study from Cornell. Although the mandatory labeling law did not change consumer buying habits, the researchers found that the increased consumer awareness caused by the legislation, coupled with existing non-GMO labeling, did in fact change The preferences.
“For consumers who care about this non-GMO attribute, they already have a relevant information signal available in the form of the non-GMO label,” said Jura Liaukonyte, Dake Family Associate Professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied. Economics and Management.
“That’s when change happens,” Liaukonyte said, “and that change is triggered by increased awareness through these legislative conversations.”
“GMO and non-GMO labeling effects: evidence from a near-natural experience,” published Aug. 29 in Marketing science. Liaukonyte’s co-authors were Aaron Adalja, assistant professor of food and beverage management at the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration; Emily Wang of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Xinrong Zhu of Imperial College Business School. Both Dyson and the Nolan School are part of Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.
The group’s main conclusion: an increase in consumer awareness of GMO-related topics – even in states that ultimately did not pass GMO labeling laws – is linked to an increase in demand for GMO-free products. GMOs. And this difference can be quantified: they found that 36% of adoption of new non-GMO products can be explained by differences in consumer awareness related to legislative activity.
“What’s really interesting is how the legislative activity essentially generates consumer awareness,” Adalja said. “In the paper, we distinguish this ‘indirect awareness effect’ from the direct effect of labelling, and we show that indirect awareness – in this case, the labeling legislation discussed in the media – is really the main mechanism by which we find consumer preferences are changing.
Over the past three decades, the labeling of GMOs has become an increasingly important topic of public and political debate. The article cites a 2016 National Academy of Sciences report finding no scientific evidence that GMO foods are less healthy or safe than non-GMO products; however, on January 1, 2022, the United States imposed disclosure labels on all foods containing GMOs.
The GMO controversy has sparked several state-level labeling initiatives over the years, but Vermont was the only state to successfully pass and implement a labeling law. The law went into effect July 1, 2016, but was quickly overtaken by the National Bioengineering Food Disclosure Standard, signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 29, 2016.
For their study, the researchers analyzed the labeling of GMOs in three steps. They first examined the relationship between the adoption rate of newly introduced non-GMO products and consumer awareness at the time of introduction. These products are identified by the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label, a certification from the third-party non-profit organization Non-GMO Project, used since 2010.
Next, they analyzed the natural experimentation condition created in the run-up to Vermont’s passage of its GMO labeling law in 2016, to assess the relationship between product demand and the information available through field efforts related to legislation. The increase in demand linked to increased awareness was significant, the authors found.
And finally, the authors investigated whether the actual passage of the Vermont law—of GMO labels appearing on store shelves—led to additional demand for non-GMO or GMO products. He does not have.
Previous studies, conducted via questionnaires or in the lab, indicated that GMO labeling would cause wide swings in consumer preferences, but the Cornell researchers’ study in the field found a more subtle change.
“It is difficult to estimate in the laboratory the complexity of the real market with its many coexisting information signals,” Liaukonyte said.
Adalja said the role of legislative discussion around GMO labeling — even in states that ultimately did not pass labeling laws — was compelling.
“This has important implications,” he said. “This is another mechanism that lawmakers need to consider when designing and debating policies aimed at altering consumer preferences.”
They also suggest that voluntary GMO-free labels – which have become more common over the past twelve years – may have provided a sufficient disclosure mechanism even without mandatory GMO labelling.
For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.
The title of the article
Effects of GMO and Non-GMO Labeling: Evidence from a Near-Natural Experiment
Publication date of articles
August 29, 2022
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