Choice and transparency drive increased support for GMOs after mandatory labeling

Consumer support for GMOs increased in Vermont after GMO labels appeared

A recent study in Science Advances out of the University of Vermon and Purdue University demonstrated that the when GMO labeling appeared in Vermont it actually increased support of genetically engineered food. Many scientists and experts opposed mandatory GMO labeling for fear that support would decrease.

How did they determine this?

The study determined an increase in support by conducting phone surveys with Vermont residents. The researchers conducted three phone surveys in March 2014, March 2015 and March 2016 before the labeling law was implemented and two phone surveys in November 2016 and March 2017 after GMO labels began to appear. Respondents in Vermont were asked, “Overall, do you strongly support, somewhat support, have no opinion, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of GMOs in the food supply?” After comparing the survey results to national data, they found that there was more support in Vermont for GMOs after labels began to appear on products.

Trust and perceived control may have led to increased support for GMOs

Consumers who oppose GMOs identify it as a risk to their personal health or a potential ecological risk. Previous research has demonstrated that people underestimate risk if they believe they can control it more. Consumers are will be more willing to accept risk if they have a choice. GMO labeling presents consumers with clear control over which products they buy. (One reasons the Non-GMO Project has been so successful, however, it’s important not to mislead consumers by labeling products non-GMO with no GMO alternative.) GMO labeling may also increase trust with consumers, which is an essential component to risk communication. The exact reason that mandatory GMO labeling may have contributed to support for GMOs still needs to be researched.

Key takeaways

In professional communications, we can use this study to drive our own decision making. Presenting choices or communicating available alternatives to consumers may decrease risk perception. As always, transparency in communications can build trust with consumers. From this case study we can learn that choice and transparency can help build successful communications campaigns.

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