What was learned: Labeling food that contains ingredients from genetically modified organisms will not deter European consumers from buying the products. This is contrary to the popular belief that spurred several large grocery chains to ban these modified ingredients in their store-brand products in 1998 and the European Union to mandate such labeling in 1997.
How we found out: European attitude surveys, such as the Eurobarometer, have consistently shown a widespread skepticism to GMO among Europeans.
Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes, director of MU’s Economics and Management of Agrobiotechnology Center, said his team tested Dutch consumers’ response to GMO labeling on their preferred brand label products, such as canned soup and fish sticks. The trials lasted five years.
At first the products were not labeled as containing GMO. Then the products were labeled as such. Finally, the labels were removed. Kalaitzandonakes, who worked with MU’s Leonie Marks and Utah State’s Steve Vickner on this project, didn’t register a change in preference when the product was labeled to contain GMO ingredients.
Similar differences between stated attitudes and consumer behavior was previously found in connection to whole milk from cows that have been given rBST, a hormone created to increase milk yield from dairy cows. Even though three out of four U.S. consumers said they would not buy this milk in 1995, whole milk labeled “free of rBST” is only 1.5 percent of the total whole milk market in the United States.
Why this matters: The restrictions on GMO in Europe work as trade barriers for products produced in the United States and developing countries that have adopted GMO crops. The labeling requirements were pushed by activist groups and food companies, not consumers.
Where you can find more information: Nature Biotechnology published “Who is Driving Biotechnology Acceptance?” in issue 21, 2003, pages 366-369. You can also find more information in “Another Look at Biotech Regulation,” published by Regulation magazine in 2004.