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When It Comes to Food Labeling, GMO or No?

When it comes to food labeling discussions, GMOs are all the rage and both sides have equally-fervent advocates. GMO supporters claim the modified ingredients don’t harm anyone and mandatory labeling efforts could hurt producers by discouraging customers from buying their products, in addition to increasing production costs. Those who rally against GMOs believe that they present a health risk to the American public, and by not labeling GMO products as such, a consumer’s right to know what they are buying is infringed upon.

I can’t tell you which side is right. However, I can arm you with a question: “What should food labels contain now that they don’t currently have?” Go ask some of your coworkers. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute. Now, go back and ask them in a yes or no format if they support GMO labeling.

Were you surprised by the results?

Polls routinely show that people want GMOs labeled on food products when asked a yes or no question about the issue at a clip of 90% or more, according to a great story in The Washington Post. This shows overwhelming support for GMO labeling when taken out of context. If you ask a question similar to the one I first posited above, you’ll find that about 7% of respondents voluntarily offer GMOs as something that should be on a food product label, according to a survey by William Hallman of Rutgers University, which makes it seem like no one cares about this issue at all. The story continues to list other important claims (“natural,” “pesticide-free” and “artificial”, among others) and how the framing of a question can elicit different responses. Consumers believe – truthfully, mind you – that these terms should be regulated and presented on labels when given a yes/no question, but don’t always bring them up on their own.

However, these claims remain an intriguing point when it comes to sales: the percentage of consumers who regularly buy food labeled natural grew to 62% in 2015 from 59% in 2014, according to Consumer Reports. At least 60% of people believe a natural label means no GMOs, artificial ingredients or colors, chemicals and pesticides, and 45% think that natural is a verified claim. Clearly, there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the issue, as well.

Currently, Maine is debating whether or not it should go forth with a mandatory GMO labeling law as the federal government mulls country-wide legislation. The common consumer’s emotional response to the question, in my mind, validates the question of whether or not we should label the products. However, until we start reaching consensus on what these various terms mean, and whether or not GMOs are harmful, and start looking at things objectively when we try to determine what to do with food labeling, we’re still stuck at one fundamental question:

GMO or No?