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Consumer survey tallies GMO reaction

Aug 16, 2016

A new biotechnology disclosure law allows food producers to use digital codes rather than product labels to inform consumers that certain foods contain genetically modified ingredients. Four in 10 Americans say it is either somewhat likely or very likely they would use mobile phones or in-store scanners to learn whether a product contains genetically modified ingredients, according to a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania and the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University. But 21 percent say it is not likely that they would do so and 38 percent say that it is not likely at all. The survey of 1,011 U.S. adults was conducted July 21-25, before President Barack Obama signed the labeling law July 29.

The new law calls for the use of on-package text, a symbol designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or an electronic or digital link such as a quick response - QR - code. When scanned or read by a smartphone or an in-store reader, the code would connect consumers to a website with more information.

Likely effect of labeling on purchases

Nearly half of Americans say they would be much less likely - 31 percent - or somewhat less likely - 18 percent - to purchase a food product if they learned it contained genetically modified ingredients. About 42 percent say it would make no difference in their intentions to buy the product. Six percent say learning a food product is genetically modified would make them more likely to purchase it.

The statements mean both the participants in the survey and Americans in general because the results obtained from survey participants are used to project to the U.S. population, said William Hallman, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and professor in the department of human ecology at Rutgers University. Because the survey participants are representative of the U.S. population, the percentages in the statement represent the percentages of Americans in general who would have responded similarly had we had the opportunity to interview all 320 million of them.

When the policy center projected from the sample of 1,011 people to the American population of 320 million people, it had a statistical margin of error. The margin of error for this survey was plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

When we report that 42 percent say ‘it would make no difference,’ we are saying that 42 percent of our survey participants said this, and that projecting to the entire population we would expect between 38.3 percent and 45.7 percent of all Americans to say this if we had the opportunity to interview them, Hallman said.

Those who say they are less likely to purchase foods if they contain genetically modified ingredients also said they are more likely to scan UPC or QR codes to learn if products contain those ingredients.

Because of this, it is likely that some food manufacturers will eliminate genetically modified ingredients from their products, Hallman said.

In the survey, 34 percent of participants said they had eaten some or a great deal of genetically modified food in the past week. Another 34 percent said they had consumed not much or none at all. Of the survey respondents, 32 percent said they did not know.

The survey found 28 percent of respondents thought labeling of genetically modified foods already was a law while 54 percent were unsure whether such labeling is required. Just 18 percent of those surveyed knew that labeling of genetically modified foods was not mandatory prior to passage of the new law.

Informed that Congress had recently passed a bill that would require the labeling of genetically modified foods, 81 percent of the respondents said they approve of the requirement. Visit for more information.


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