As far as hot-button issues go, the debate over GMO labeling laws is reaching a boiling point in the US. Although several states such as Maine and Connecticut successfully passed legislation that would have required the labeling of foods and products containing genetically modified ingredients, the House of Representatives voted last week to block states from requiring labels of this kind.
In Vermont, GMO labels were on track to be implemented as soon as next summer, but the recent decision by Congress to shoot down the mandatory nature of the labels overrides statewide decisions. And that's in spite of the fact that 93 percents of respondents to a 2013 New York Times poll said that they believe the labels are a good idea.
So, now what?
Well, here's the thing: although transparency is a nice idea, GMO labels might not make much of a difference when it comes to consumer choice. A new study from the University of Vermont has found that, when it comes down to it, people wouldn't avoid products with GMO labels.
Five years of data from statewide surveys were examined in the study, with responses focused on whether participants opposed the sale of GMOs in consumer products and how important it was that these products were labeled as such.
Although the vast majority (again, 93 percent) of respondents favored labeling laws and 60 percent did not approve of the use of GM ingredients, there are no significant overlap between the groups statistically. In other words, support for the labels didn't make a difference in whether that same person favored or opposed the use of GMOs in consumer products.
In this case, many of those who are in support of the labels might just be vouching for a consumer's right to know rather than actively campaigning against the sale of GMO products to the public in general.
Opponents to labeling laws might be heartened by this, though some seem to view the issue as a passing trend rather than a global concern about how our food is made. In a statement released earlier this month, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association maintained, "The First Amendment dictates that when speech is involved, Vermont policymakers cannot merely act as a pass-through for the fads and controversies of the day. It must point to a truly 'governmental' interest, not just a political one."
In the meantime, the question remains: even if the full impact of GMOs on human health is yet to be understood, is it in our best interests to know we're eating them?
Although many people argue yes, that might not stop them from filling their shopping carts with those products—labeled or otherwise.