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Most Americans Support GMO Labeling, New Poll Says

Most Americans Support GMO Labeling, New Poll Says

The Associated Press has found that 66 percent of Americans support requiring companies to label GMO foods

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How would your eating habits change if companies were required to label GMO foods?

Should GMO foods be labeled? Right now, only three states in America (Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut) have laws in place — or will, in the near future — that require genetically modified foods to be identified on nutrition labels, despite dozens of countries around the world banning GMOs altogether. A recent Associated Press survey determined that 66 percent of Americans would support legislation that requires food companies to label GMO products. However, only two-fifths of those polled actually said that the appearance of these GMO labels would influence their consumption habits.

If Americans are still wishy-washy about whether they want to consume GMO foods, then why do they care so much about labeling? According to AP, it’s all about the illusion of choice.

“It should be there, and not in small print," poll participant Jay Jaffe said of GMO labels. "People should be able to make a choice."

According to the poll, support for the measure is bipartisan, and more than half of Democrats and Republicans polled would want GMO foods to be labeled. Right now in America, much of our corn and soybean crops are genetically modified, but there is still a debate over the merits and dangers of tampering with crops’ DNA.

Most Americans Support GMO Labeling, New Poll Says - Recipes

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        Consumers Want Mandatory Labeling for GMO Foods

        The debate over GMO labeling is heating up, but it's clear where consumers stand.

        Nearly 90 percent of Americans want mandatory labeling on genetically modified foods, according to a new poll of 800 registered voters commissioned by a coalition of consumer and environmental groups, including Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. These results confirm previous polls by Consumer Reports and other groups, which also show overwhelming support for GMO labeling.

        In July 2016, Vermont will become the first state to require that GMO foods be labeled as such. But that law is being challenged.

        In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard arguments to overturn a lower court’s decision to allow the Vermont law to go forward while a lawsuit brought by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food industry organizations to block the law was being argued. This past summer, the House of Representatives passed the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1599)—otherwise known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act—which would nullify existing state labeling laws, ban any future laws to require labeling, and only allow voluntary labeling on the part of the manufacturer. And currently, some lawmakers want to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from requiring GMO foods to be labeled.

        Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically modified salmon in November and won’t require that it be labeled. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen, Ph.D. described this decision as an abuse of consumer trust. “When it comes to food, consumers deserve rigorous safety testing for human and environmental risks and meaningful labels they can use to decide what to eat. They got neither,” he wrote.

        The poll also asked whether consumers would prefer to get information on GMOs in a food via a scannable bar code or QR code on the package, which some members of the food industry suggest would be a good alternative to on-package labeling. Just 8 percent said they would, while 88 percent said they would prefer a printed label.

        “Not everyone has a smartphone or lives in an area with reliable Internet service,” says Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union. "And even for those who do, it’s inconvenient to have to scan every food you put into your grocery cart.”

        Companies could also collect information about consumers who scan the bar codes, raising privacy concerns. If bar codes were used, 82 percent of poll respondents said that food companies should not be allowed to gather any data.

        Consumer Reports supports mandatory GMO labeling because we believe everyone has the right to know what’s in the food they eat. If you agree, we encourage you to take a minute to call your senators to let them know.

        In facts & numbers: Absolute majority of Americans want GMO food to be labeled

        Late last month, advocates in Colorado filed the preliminary paperwork necessary to land a GMO labeling bill on the ballot in 2014. If voters there agree to mandate appropriate labels on lab-made food products, Colorado will join Connecticut and Maine as being the only locales within the United States to approve such efforts. But while polls conducted during the last several years suggest an overwhelming majority of Americans — close to 100 percent, in some cases — are pro GMO labeling, initiatives across the country have already failed, and supporters of these measures believe it’s because their opponents are investing big bucks to buy the outcome.

        A poll conducted by the New York Times this year found that 93 percent of respondents want GMO ingredients to be properly labeled, and a similar survey done by the Washington Post in 2010 clocked in with 94 percent support.

        "Surveys have always found 80 to 95 percent of people wanting labeling," Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen told Rodale News back in April." People are paying attention to food, and because of that they're more interested in GMO issues and buying food that's more local and food without pesticides and other added ingredients."

        Even with polling results backing up Hansen’s assumption, time and time again GMO labeling initiatives up for vote in the US have failed in recent months, even in instances when those measures were previously all but expected to pass.

        Last year, for example, a GMO-labeling initiative up for vote in California was favored by 66.9 of likely voters according to a late September poll. As election day neared, however, a high-priced “Vote No” campaign sponsored by the likes of biotech giants Monsanto and Dupont — as well as Pepsico, Bayer, Dow and Syngenta — pulled in a total of $45 million worth of contributions used to power an ad blitz that ultimately allowed the labeling bill to be shot down by a single-digit margin of percentage points.

        Then in Washington last month, voters decided by barely a 10 percentage point margin to reject an initiative requiring GMO labeling there that USA Today called “the most expensive” in state history. One month prior to election day, a poll determined that 66 percent of Washingtonians supported that bill, but that number dwindled by 20 percentage points within weeks as Monsanto and company again raised millions towards fighting off the measure.

        Meanwhile, the recently-passed labeling laws in Connecticut and Maine might not officially end up on the books anytime soon — if at all — according to Maxx Chatsko at The Motley Fool. As he noted in a report last week, that legislation requires that four other northeastern states with a combined population of at least 20 million enact similar laws first in order for the already-passed measures to be enforced.

        Even if all nine Northeastern states pass GMO labeling laws, the total population of states involved will only represent 18 percent of all United States residents,” Chatsko wrote. “Now, that could very well open the door to a national conversation on GMO labeling, but food manufacturers would likely take issue with such legislation. We could very well see this debate end up in a courtroom.”

        Until then, though, that debate is already occurring in countless locales not just in the US, but around the world. An international day of action in May was scheduled in 36 different nations to show opposition to GMOs and the tactics employed by those involved in the industry, particularly Monsanto. A second global “March Against Monsanto” has since occurred in October, helping propel what was once a grassroots movement on the fringe to a very real fight being fought by millions of activists around the world.

        That isn’t to say that Monsanto hasn’t already had their fair share of legal battles in courtrooms across America, either, and even recently was awarded a major victory in the US Supreme Court. In a case before the high court this past May, the country’s top justices said a 75-year-old soybean farmer had violated the terms of a patent-protected GMO soybean crop manufactured by Monsanto by replanting seeds after an initial harvest. Elsewhere Monsanto has found themselves in-and-out of legal trouble, but has largely escaped unscathed with the assistance of a powerful fleet of attorneys, often no match for any underpaid lawyers retained by opponents of the billion-dollar biotech giant. Others have even accused the company of using their high-powered legal counsel to fight small-time farmers into submission, and a law passed by Congress earlier this year further generated criticism after it reportedly relieved Monsanto from future litigation brought on by untested GMO products.

        Even still, additional opposition aimed at Monsanto has accumulated not due to the company’s legal tactics, but their potentially damning impact on the Earth and environment. Last year researchers from the University of Caen said that rats fed a seed variety made tolerant to amounts of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller developed tumors and died earlier than those on a standard diet, and officials in Germany, France and Italy have all proposed national bans on GMOs.

        Despite opposition around the globe, a report released by Monsanto in late October claimed the company’s net sales increased by 10 percent between fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

        It’s been more than 12 years since FDA first approved voluntary GE labeling and zero companies have voluntarily disclosed the presence of GE ingredients in their products.

        Poll after poll show that 90-95 percent of Americans support mandatory GMO labeling. A recent poll by the Mellman Group found that not only did over 90 percent of respondents support labeling but nearly all Democrats (93 percent), Independents (90 percent), and Republicans (89 percent) favor labeling.

        Mandatory labels on foods containing DNA? 80% of Americans support that

        © DigitalGenetics - Fotolia According to a recent survey (available in .pdf form here) by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics, over 80% of Americans said they would support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” roughly the same number that support the mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.”

        Oklahoma State's “Food Demand Survey,” called FooDS, is an online monthly survey which “tracks consumer preferences and sentiments on the safety, quality, and price of food at home and away from home with particular focus on meat demand,” according to the survey itself.

        Page one of the five-page study looks at the survey recipients' monthly food expenditures, how much customers said they were willing to pay for various types of meat (steak or hamburger, chicken breast vs. chicken wing), and how these current numbers compare to those from last month and last year. (In case you were wondering: those numbers indicate that compared to last month, customers are willing to pay slightly less for beef and pork products, and slightly more for chicken.)

        On page two there's a chart showing “Consumer Expectations” – most survey recipients expect meat prices will rise – and then the survey discusses “Awareness and Concern Tracking,” to determine which food-related issues consumers were most aware of and concerned about: “GMO, E.coli, and Salmonella remained the most visible issues in the news over the past two weeks.” Other food issues generating interest and/or concern on the survey included hormones, antibiotics, pink slime, swine flu, cloning, and “lean fine textured ground beef.”

        Page three discusses other things consumers want when making food purchases, including “affordable foods that fit with-in[sic] my budget” and “finding foods my children will eat.”

        All of these are standard questions covered in every FooDS. But on page 4, it says that “Three new ad hoc questions were added to the survey this month,” and the first question asks whether people support or oppose various government policies related to agricultural matters: 80.44% of respondents said they would support “Mandatory labels on foods containing DNA.” That's only slightly less than the 82.28% who support “Mandatory labels on foods produced with genetic engineering.”

        Ilya Somin, writing about the survey at the Washington Post, suggested that a mandatory label for foods containing DNA might sound like this:

        WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.

        (Somin's warning neglects to mention that sexually active men are also at high risk of passing DNA down to their children, unless the men wear a condom.)

        Hard to avoid

        The joke, of course, is that DNA is the hereditary material found in the cells of human beings and almost all living organisms – including all the different meat and plant products people eat. Labeling all food containing DNA would be almost as pointless as labeling foods that contain atoms.

        One question the survey did not ask was whether people would support mandatory labeling (or even possible bans) of food items containing the potentially deadly chemical “dihydrogen monoxide.”

        There is a well-known joke/prank wherein people will discuss the dangers of the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide” (or even collect signatures on petitions urging that dihydrogen monoxide be banned).

        Search online for information about dihydrogen monoxide, and you'll find a long list of scary-sounding and absolutely true warnings about it: the nuclear power industry uses enormous quantities of it every year. Dihydrogen monoxide is used in the production of many highly toxic pesticides, and chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Conventions. Dihydrogen monoxide is found in all tumors removed from cancer patients, and is guaranteed fatal to humans in large quantities – though even small quantities can kill you, if it enters your respiratory system.

        So is dihydrogen monoxide safe for human consumption? Of course. It's not just safe, it's mandatory: dihydrogen monoxide, the molecule consisting of two atoms of hydrogen for every one of oxygen, is just another way of saying “water.”

        Not that any sane person would ever recommend banning water – but plenty of sane (though ill-informed) people have considered banning “dihydrogen monoxide,” because it's a big intimidating multi-syllabic phrase that sounds all scary and chemical-y. And the latest issue of Oklahoma State's FooDS survey suggests that even DNA – the building blocks of life itself – is equally scary and intimidating to people who don't know what it is.

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        “This poll underscores that, across the country, consumers want labeling of GE food, including GE salmon, and consider safety standards set by the government of such food imperative," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union.

        Growing public opposition to GE foods comes as numerous states have begun to surpass the FDA by passing their own labeling legislation.

        Last month, Vermont became the first state to require the labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients. Similar legislation, which included "trigger clauses" that require a certain number of other states to also enact similar laws, passed in both Connecticut and Maine. Lawmakers in Massachusetts, Oregon, Colorado, and New York are also weighing labeling proposals.

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        Most voters want GMO food labels, poll finds

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        Jazzminh Moore, of Salem, shops for non-GMO foods at LifeSource Natural Foods in Salem. (Photo: ANNA REED / Statesman Journal) Buy Photo

        A majority of American voters support mandatory labeling of food containing genetically engineered ingredients, a new national poll commissioned by labeling supporters shows.

        Eighty-nine percent of the 800 voters surveyed last month said they support mandatory labeling. Six percent said they oppose such a requirement, while the remainder said they do not have an opinion.

        The poll comes as some Congressional lawmakers are pushing to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from implementing their own GMO labeling requirements.

        It also comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of unlabeled genetically engineered salmon.

        The poll was commissioned by Environmental Working Group, Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth and Center for Food Safety.

        “This is yet another poll that shows broad and deep support for clear GMO labeling at a time when the issue is more important than ever,” said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It. “Food manufacturers and lawmakers should work together to give Americans a more transparent food system by crafting a non-judgmental, mandatory GMO labeling system that is easily found on the packaging.”

        The poll also asked voters whether they would choose GMO labels printed on the package, or bar codes or QR codes that could be scanned with a smartphone, as suggested by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

        Consumer and environmental groups say scannable codes discriminate against those who can’t afford smartphones or live in areas without reliable cellphone service.

        “QR code labeling discriminates against the poor, minorities, rural populations and the elderly. They are a completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on-package labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. “The right to know is a right for all, not just those who can afford it.”

        Eighty-eight percent of poll respondents said they preferred printed labels, while 8 percent preferred scannable bar codes.

        The groups also raise the concern that food manufacturers could gather information about customers, such as their location and product choices, when they scan food packages.

        Eighty-two percent of poll respondents said such data collection should be prohibited.

        80 Percent of Americans Want to Label Food That Contains DNA

        You might have heard that Americans overwhelmingly favor mandatory labeling for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. That's true, according to a new study: 84 percent of respondents said they support the labels.

        Brandon McFadden and Jayson Lusk

        But a nearly identical percentage—80 percent—in the same survey said they'd also like to see labels on food containing DNA.

        Brandon McFadden and Jayson Lusk

        The study, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal last week, also found that 33 percent of respondents thought that non-GM tomatoes "did not contain genes" and 32 percent thought that "vegetables did not have DNA." So there's that.

        University of Florida food economist Brandon R. McFadden and his co-author Jayson L. Lusk surveyed 1,000 American consumers and discovered that "consumers think they know more than they actually do about GM food." In fact, the authors say, "the findings question the usefulness of results from opinion polls as motivation for public policy surrounding GM food."

        My summary for laymen: When it comes to genetically modified food, people don't know much, they don't know what they don't know, and they sure as heck aren't letting that stop them from having strong opinions.

        However, the authors do offer another, more charitable way to read their findings, suggesting that rather than simply throw up our hands and say that Americans are the Jon Snows of GM food, we should consider the possibility that the results "indicate how consumers psychological[ly] handle difficult questions."

        Perhaps "individuals attempt to economize on scarce cognitive resources by unconsciously substituting an easier question for a hard one. Rather than seriously weighing the pros and cons of a mandatory labeling, the similarity in responses to the DNA labeling question suggests people may instead be substituting these questions with a simper question like, 'do you want free information about a topic for which you know very little?' This psychological process would lead to similar levels of support to two very different policy questions." Leaving aside the sick burn implied by the phrase "scarce cognitive resources" for a minute, this is a good point.

        What's more, the researcher found that even posing basic questions about GM food caused people to re-evaluate how much they knew, downgrading their own perceptions of their knowledge levels, while simultaneously becoming more confident about the safety of GM foods.

        UPDATE with fun fact: High fructose corn syrup and other highly refined foods made with GM crops actually don't contain DNA, apparently.

        Americans Deserve Better than the USDA’s GMO Labeling Law

        After a lengthy delay, the USDA published the final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS) in the Federal Register on December 21. This law, which you may have heard called the DARK Act, is the start of mandatory GMO labeling in the United States. It means that some—but not all—products containing GMOs will have to be labeled by 2022.

        While the Non-GMO Project supports mandatory labeling, we are disappointed by the content of the final rule. It does not do enough to protect consumers and it does not offer American families the transparency they have been calling for.

        As you know, consumers have been demanding meaningful GMO labeling for more than 20 years. Fifty-four GMO labeling bills landed on ballots in 26 states, and consumers in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont successfully passed statewide labeling legislation. Unfortunately, the NBFDS took those hard-earned wins away from consumers by rolling back existing state laws and preventing any future state-level GMO labeling.

        The Non-GMO Project was founded on the simple idea that everyone has the right to know what is in their food, and we are committed to helping make that right a reality for every shopper. The Project has always supported mandatory labeling legislation and even spearheaded efforts to help the USDA make the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard meaningful and intuitive for all consumers.

        Consumers like you have been asking for transparency, campaigning for labeling, and voting for non-GMO options when you shop. Your hard work created the Non-GMO Project and helped bring more than 57,000 Verified non-GMO choices to consumers across North America. The USDA’s final rule is not good enough and we think you deserve better—so let’s continue to stand together in support of meaningful GMO labeling and Verified non-GMO choices.

        What is in this new GMO labeling law?

        The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law requires some products that contain GMOs to bear a GMO disclosure. Some food products will start to include a disclosure in 2020, but food producers are not required to be in full compliance until 2022.

        • Exempts most GMO foods that have been processed and refined, which represent the majority of GMO foods. A product can have many different highly refined GMO ingredients and still not be labeled under this law.
        • Largely exempts GMO ingredients developed through techniques such as CRISPR or RNAi because many will not contain detectable GMO DNA.
        • Mandates the use of the new term bioengineered instead of the familiar “GMO” in disclosures. If you’ve never heard of “bioengineered” food, you are not alone!
        • Allows an unreasonably high five percent per ingredient threshold for GMO contamination. For context, the European Union uses a 0.9 percent threshold for most foods—so does the Non-GMO Project.
        • Falls behind the rapid introduction of new GMOs by only updating its list of GMO foods once per year.
        • Fails to include any technical requirements to ensure that GMO testing is meaningful (e.g., testing method, accreditation of labs, sampling plan requirements.)
        • Has no penalty at all for failing to comply with the law. This is in stark contrast to the USDA’s National Organic Program, which levies fines of up to $11,000 per violation.

        Some GMO foods will be labeled “bioengineered” or “BE”

        It is important to understand that GMO foods won’t say they contain GMOs, they will say they are “bioengineered.” While 97 percent of consumers are familiar with the term GMO, most people do not understand what bioengineered food means. Typically used only as a medical term, “bioengineered” is not even included in the USDA’s Agricultural Biotechnology Glossary , highlighting the fact that it was invented for this purpose. Using intentionally confusing terminology misleads consumers and keeps them in the dark.

        These symbols (and other types of disclosures) will begin to appear on packages in 2020 to indicate the presence of GMOs in food.

        It is clear that using “bioengineered” instead of “GMO” or “genetically engineered” is an attempt to distance labeled products from the overwhelming consumer rejection of GMO foods. This is unacceptable and the Non-GMO Project feels it shows a great disregard for the American public. Unfortunately, the labeling confusion does not end there. The NBFDS does not even require products that need a BE disclosure to have a plain-text label. Consumers will need to scan QR codes, visit websites, send text messages, or make telephone calls while shopping in order to find out if some of their food contains GMOs.

        The good news in the face of this disappointing law is that the Non-GMO Project’s mission is unchanged. We are still committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices. A product without a bioengineered disclosure could still contain GMOs, but the Non-GMO Project Verified mark always means a product is compliant with North America’s most trusted and most rigorous Standard for GMO avoidance. You have the right to know what is in your food—without needing to memorize regulatory loopholes or jump through hoops in the grocery store .