GMOs have steadily fallen out of favor among US consumers, pressuring some manufacturers to rid their products of genetically engineered ingredients. For example, General Mills removed GMOs from its flagship original Cheerios cereal. Similarly, dairy giant Dannon announced in July that it would bring more non-GMO ingredient options and clear labels to its yogurt products.
In order to see just how much GMOs mattered to US consumers and affected their purchasing decisions, we surveyed a number of consumers who visited the Thursday farmer's market in downtown Chicago's Daley Plaza.
The questions were straightforward:
“What are GMOs?” and “Do you think about GMOs when you go food shopping and you’re looking at label?”
We also brought with us a few common food products by companies who have already added a GMO disclosure label to comply with Vermont's GMO labeling law, such as products by Mars Inc., Campbell's Soup, and General Mills, though Vermont's law was eventually nullified by the new federal one.
The sample size of our respondents was of course too small to reach sweeping conclusions, but even with only a handful of randomly selected consumers selected in a very specific type of place (a farmer's market), opinions on what GMOs are were very diverse. Of all the people we approached (20), five people declined to participate because they felt they did not know enough about the subject of GMOs.
Two-year deadline for federal GMO labeling legislation
The law requires the USDA to establish a national standard for GMO labeling within two years, and pre-empts state GMO disclosure laws including Vermont’s law which went into effect on July 1.
While it requires mandatory disclosures on food labels, however, there is some flexibility over the form they can take - a compromise industry associations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association say they can support.
However, anti-GMO activists - and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders - remain staunchly opposed, primarily because it will allow companies to use QR codes or other symbols instead of forcing them to state on pack that a product uses GMOs - as the law in Vermont requires.