Spend much time on the internet – and particularly within social media – and it's tempting to believe all the world hates GMOs, Monsanto, RoundUp and the food industry. Also, that everyone wants organic food, non-GM food, and they don't care what it costs.
But Jayson Lusk, Oklahoma State University ag and food economist, says real life doesn't play out in quite the same way. Lusk, who also authored The Food Police, studied grocery store scanner data in Washington state, as residents of that state decided and voted on a referendum to label genetically modified foods last year.
"Labeling GM foods is a very popular policy, but the votes in states like Washington and California show that when people are confronted with additional arguments and information, they are often persuaded to be less concerned," Lusk shares.
Indeed, in a recent New York Times survey, 90% of Americans say they think GM foods should be labeled. Lusk doesn't deny those results but says you have to look at what people actually do. "In California and Washington, less than half voted for labels," he explains.
He's learned that something called hypothetical bias plays heavily into surveys. "People are much more likely to say they are willing to pay a premium for a product," he says. "People will tell you they're willing to pay twice as much as they actually are."
As an economist, though, Lusk likes to see what people are actually willing to pay, when they have to. So he studied grocery store scanner data in Washington state during the labeling debate. He specifically studied soy milk, which carries a non-GMO label.
"Interestingly enough, the market share for soy milk went down during that time period, which coincides with the opinion poll," Lusk reports. "People said, 'we want the label,' but as time went on, people got more information and it failed. That mirrored choices people were making in the marketplace."
He concludes, "It's further corroboration of the same story: people are open to information and the information they received cause them to be less concerned about biotechnology, both in their desire for a label and for paying for it in the store."
State by state labeling legislation, 2013
Interested in the GMO discussion? Farm Progress Special Projects Editor Holly Spangler is exploring GMO foods, GMO labeling and the general genetically modified food debate in an exclusive series. Follow along with @HollySpangler on Twitter and using the links below: