The issue of whether the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and beverages has been contentiously debated—and will continue to be—by consumers, activists and the food and beverage industry and lawmakers for years. And while U.S. consumers are now more informed about GMOs and the benefits of their use in producing food, many still have concerns about them, according to a report form The NPD Group that explored how genetically modified foods or beverages impact grocery shopping and consumption habits.
According to NPD, more than half of consumers in 2013 had little to no awareness of GMOs and that percentage has shrunk to a little over one-third. As awareness grows more consumers recognize that GMOs have benefits in producing better and more resilient crops, but for many of those aware the benefits don’t outweigh their worry, making GMOs the fastest-growing food additive concern.
TV news coverage and social media have informed consumers about GMOS and the benefits of their use, but the same channels have also fueled fears. Of those consumers aware of and concerned about GMOs, their worries center around food safety and their interest in eating foods that are authentic and “real." The aware and concerned consumers tend to make healthy choices when grocery shopping and shop at specialty grocers, produce stores, and other grocery channels in addition to traditional grocery stores.
Although awareness of GMOs is increasing, only 11 percent of consumers are aware that President Obama signed a federal GMO labeling law in July that will require foods containing a GMO ingredient to bear a disclosure on the packaging. The law, which goes into effect in 2018, gives manufacturers the option of showing if their foods and beverages include genetically modified ingredients—either by words on the label, a symbol on the label or an electronic code readable by a smartphone (QR code). Small food manufacturers also have the option to provide a 1-800 number for additional information. There are also modified requirements for small packages, and exemptions for small food manufacturers and retail establishments. For more information, read Natural Products INSIDER’s article “GMO Labeling Requirements" that addresses questions about the new law.
According to NPD, consumers who are already relying on the packaging as a guide to determine if a product was made using GMOs prefer on-package labeling versus using the QR code.
“With increasing awareness and concern, consumers would benefit hearing from food manufacturers the reasons why they use GMOs and how their use benefits their customers," said Darren Seifer, NPD Group food and beverage industry analyst. “They want to know about what happened to the product before it reached the shelf in areas such as country of origin, corporate responsibility, allergens, and other health information. Consumers today want to be informed and appreciate it when food companies make the effort to educate them. “
As I said, GMOs are a controversial topic, and a recent federal law reignited the issue as well as surfaced heated debates around states’ rights, the digital divide between rich and poor, and consumer understanding of the organic label. Check out the “SupplySide West Podcast 6: Controversies With the New GMO Labeling Law" podcast to hear Loren Israelsen, president, United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA), and Jon Benninger, vice president, Health & Nutrition Network, Informa Exhibitions, discuss the topic.