Mandatory labeling on genetically engineered foods may reduce customer purchases
Labels alerting customers that products contain ingredients from genetically engineered plants may reduce sales, at least in the short term, according to a new study from a research team including an agricultural economist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
The study analyzed sales trend data from Vermont after a law went into effect requiring labels on genetically engineered, or GE, foods — the only mandatory statewide GE labeling policy that ever has been implemented in the U.S.
The researchers found that after the law was implemented, sales of foods labeled as containing GE ingredients decreased by 5.9%. Meanwhile, sales of products labeled as not containing GE ingredients increased by 2.5%, and sales of organic products — which by law cannot contain GE ingredients — increased by 1.7%.
According to the researchers, GE and genetically modified organisms, often referred to as GMOs, are essentially the same thing but used in different contexts, both referring to humans altering an organism’s DNA or RNA. For example, scientists have tweaked the genes of potatoes to make them more resistant to browning.
Linlin Fan, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Penn State, said the findings could give clues about how a new law mandating labels on GE foods nationwide in the U.S. will affect sales trends.
“We know that GE products are safe, but many are concerned that mandatory labeling would lead to people rejecting these products and increased problems with food insecurity,” Fan said. “While we did see a small decrease in sales, it wasn’t a large effect, and we also found that attitudes about GE products improved over time.”
The study was published recently in the journal Food Policy.
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