Poll: 9-In-10 Americans Support GMO Labeling

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever genetically engineered animal for sale as food in the U.S., but declared that this salmon would not need to carry any label identifying it as a genetically modified food product, much like the many items currently on grocery store shelves made with GMO grains and other ingredients. But the results of a new national poll seem to indicate that most consumers would appreciate having a heads-up about the GMO content of the food they buy.

The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group and commissioned by a coalition of advocacy organizations (including our colleagues at Consumers Union), found that nearly 90% of American shoppers support the idea of requiring food producers to clearly label GMO ingredients, with 77% of them “strongly” in favor of the mandatory labeling.

In addition to the recently approved AquAdvantage salmon, GMO labeling is in the spotlight right now because the Senate is set to consider HR 1599, which supporters call by its official title — the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” — but which critics have taken to calling the DARK (Denying Americans the Right-to-Know) Act because it would prohibit the FDA from requiring labels on GMO food unless the genetic tinkering resulted in material changes of nutritional properties, allergens, or other important characteristics of the original food item.

The bill, which was approved by the House in July, would also preempt state-level efforts to mandate GMO labeling. In a letter sent to lawmakers before they passed the legislation, Consumers Union noted that “the ability of states to act democratically to carry out the wishes of their citizens on GE food labeling should not be impeded by Congress.”

The act’s author, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, claims that this preemption of states’ authority is actually for the benefit of consumers — that the “patchwork” of state laws “could mislead consumers” and “raise the price of groceries” by forcing food companies to change their labels.

However, critics of the bill point out food companies are constantly changing their labels and packaging for marketing and promotional purposes. A GMO or GE label would require just as much ink and paper as these companies currently use for their products.

Speaking of labeling, another concern about this legislation is that it would allow the use of “natural” in the marketing of GMO foods, at least until the FDA determines exactly what that term should mean.

Some opponents of GMO labeling have proposed a compromise that would allow this information to be included on the label — not as words, but as a scannable barcode or QR code.

According to the new poll, 88% of American shoppers would prefer to not have to scan a barcode just to find out whether their food contains GMOs.

In fact, only about 1-in-6 survey respondents have ever scanned a barcode to get more information about a product, meaning more than 80% of shoppers would be left in the dark about what they are purchasing.

“Americans have yet again expressed an overwhelming desire to know what’s in their food,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. “Shoppers want to see clear labels on food packaging that tell them if products are made with genetically engineered ingredients without having to use confusing codes or smartphone apps. We hope lawmakers hear consumers’ call for meaningful, mandatory national GMO labeling.”

Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety, says that the barcode suggestion would have the effect of discriminating against the poor, minorities, rural populations and the elderly.

“They are a completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling,” says Kimbrell. “The right to know is a right for all, not just those who can afford it.”