The USDA’s mandatory labeling for bioengineered crops (f/k/a GMO) went into effect January 1st. But will it actually change consumer preferences and shopping habits? According to a study from Cornell University, probably not.
Researchers looked at data from Vermont in 2016. That’s when the state had its own short-lived GMO-labeling requirement. It only last a couple months, but it gave us an insight into how the market reacts to these labels. And the answer is that most people don’t care. The researchers found the market share for GMO products and non-GMO products stayed the same throughout the year–75 percent and 12 percent, respectively. In other words, it didn’t make much difference.
And USDA’s label will likely induce fewer changes. Companies have the option of simply adding a QR code on their packaging. Shoppers have to actively take the step of scanning the QR code and reading the information to learn whether the product contains any bioengineered products. So without a visual cue (even the sunny and warm BE labels) the vast majority of consumers will never even realize it’s there.
There was another unsurprising aspect to this as well. When there was a debate about GMO labeling in any particular jurisdiction, Google searches about GMOs increased. But as soon as that debate was over, the interest waned as well. Shoppers also seem more receptive to The Non-GMO Project’s obnoxious little butterfly label, which provides a visual cue and plenty of anti-GMO propaganda.
And that explains why some groups aren’t happy about the BE label: it isn’t going to scare people. They were hoping for a skull-and-cross-bones label. They spent years demonizing biotechnology and they’re angry the government doesn’t want to use the-long-maligned term GMO. Just remember: if people are aren’t scared, they aren’t donating money to activist organizations!!
That’s precisely why I’m such a fan!