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A New Study Shows Just How Disruptive the New Bioengineered Labels May Be

When the USDA released its proposed federal GMO-labeling standards a few months ago, it was painfully obvious that it was doing its best to placate the major GMO seed companies by using the word “bioengineered” instead of “genetically-engineered” or “made with genetic engineering.”

Yet, a recent study by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) has demonstrated that consumers may not be fooled by this new and potentially confusing terminology.


In an online survey of 1,002 Americans ages 18–80, consumers were shown four variations of bottles of canola oil, with and without the BE (bioengineered) symbols. 

With no disclosure — 31% had human health concerns
With BE “plant” symbol — 50% had human health concerns
With BE “plant” symbol and the word “bioengineered” — 51% had human health concerns
With BE “plant” symbol and the words “may be bioengineered” — 57% had human health concerns

Not surprisingly, the sun and smiley face logos, two other logos proposed by the USDA, were associated with the smallest amount of concern about human health and were generally liked by consumers.

When asked about the means of disclosure, consumers preferred:

51% — Symbol or visual representation
29% — Text on a food package
7% — Sending a text message to receive more information
6% — Visiting a website
4% — Calling a phone number
3% — Scanning an electronic or digital link

In regards to sentiments of GMOs:

36% know very little or nothing at all about bioengineered or genetically modified foods.
36% know at least a fair amount about bioengineered or genetically modified foods.
47% said they avoid GMO foods at least somewhat.

Reasons for avoiding GMOs:

85% — Human health concerns
43% — Environmental reasons
36% — Animal health
34% — Agricultural/farming concerns

When given a list to choose from, the top labeling claims consumers seek out when buying food for their families are:

72% — All Natural, 100% Natural or Natural
72% — Raised without Antibiotics
63% — Sustainable
63% — Locally Sourced
60% — USDA Certified Organic
55% — “Not Made with Genetically Modified Ingredients” and “Non-GMO Project Verified”


Even though the USDA is late in establishing the GMO-labeling guidelines, there may eventually be lawsuits over several aspects of these standards; the discriminatory nature of QR codes (The DARK Act allows for QR codes to be used instead of on-packaging labels, despite the fact that nearly 1/3rd of Americans do not own a SmartPhone) and the lack of neutrality with some of the proposed symbols (particularly, the sun and smiley face).

Nevertheless, the findings in IFIC’s study should bring a measured sense of optimism to advocates of organic.

First of all, more than 1/3rd of the population is still unfamiliar with GMOs. Additionally, shoppers are seeking out “natural”, “local”, “raised without antibiotics”, and “sustainable” claims more than “organic” ones.

With more education, these people could be converted to organic shoppers. As of now, they are simply not informed about the health risks that GMOs pose and that these other claims are not nearly as strong as the organic label.

Second, while most of us are completely unsatisfied with the term “bioengineered” and the proposed BE plant symbol, which could be viewed as portraying GMOs as healthy, the data is quite conclusive. Both of these disclosure methods increase concern about genetically-modified foods among shoppers.

As the USDA makes a disingenuous attempt at transparency, by proposing definitions and symbols that are potentially misleading and confusing, consumers seem to be getting the message — a reality that should make big food companies quite nervous.

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
Center for Food Safety

Groups Intend to Sue over Reversal of the Ban of GMOs and Pesticides on National Wildlife Refuges

Conservation groups just filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for suddenly reversing a 2014 decision prohibiting bee-killing, neonicotinoid pesticides and genetically-modified crops on national wildlife refuges.

Food Dive

Online Grocery Shopping Continues to Surge

By Jessica Dumont

Online sales comprise 5.5% of total grocery spending in the U.S., and online grocery shoppers increased their weekly purchases from 28% to 46% of their total grocery spend.

Supermarket News

A Growing Emphasis on the Healthy Convenience Store

By Gloria Dawson

Across the country, healthy and higher-end convenience stores are emerging.

Second Course
Portland Business Journal

After 40 Years, Bob's Red Mill Has a New CEO

By Erik Siemers

The legendary Bob Moore, CEO of Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, has tapped Dennis Vaughn, the company's chief operating officer and vice president of operations, to lead the brand.

Supermarket News

Albertsons and Greycroft Form VC Fund

By Russell Redman

Albertsons has teamed up with venture capital firm Greycroft to invest in and develop grocery-related technology companies.


Kroger Launches a New Delivery Service called “Kroger Ship”

By Brittain Ladd

As part of its Restock Kroger initiative to expand its digital presence, Kroger Ship customers will be able to select from 4,500 private-label offerings and more than 50,000 groceries and other household items.

Third Course
Civil Eats

Farming in the Midwest is Failing but There is Hope

By Karen Perry Stillerman

Despite the fact that corn and soybeans grown in the Midwest aren't really feeding the people and are doing damage to the environment, signs of hope are appearing -- in the form of cover crops and crop rotations.


India's Food Supply is Inundated with GMOs

By Jake Johnson

As a result of poor enforcement and corporate deception, supermarkets in India are flooded with GMOs, with 15% of the products making false claims of being GMO-free.

CBS News

Nestle Facing Lawsuit Over GMO Labels

By Jonathan Berr

Nestle is facing a class action lawsuit, which alleges that the company sold GMO-products labeled as "No GMO Ingredients".

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* Be sure to sign the Center for Food Safety’s petition and urge your Senator to oppose a former pesticide executive’s nomination to distribute the USDA’s research budget.

* In chemical news, glyphosate was discovered in Rachel Ray’s ‘natural’ line of pet food; a judge has suspended the use of glyphosate in Brazil; and drift-prone chemicals, such as dicamba and chlorpyrifos, are becoming a very serious issue in courtrooms across the U.S.

* In partnership with Rodale Institute, the Pocono Raceway now has an organic farm.

* The Nordic Organic Food Fair will be taking place on November 14-15 in Malmo, Sweden.

* Interesting story of the Rhode Island native who started the Organic Soup Kitchen in Santa Barbara, CA, which serves organic meals to cancer patients, low-income seniors, and homeless residents.

* Basics Market, a new concept which emphasizes cooking, nutrition and education for all, will be opening in Portland later this summer.

* NYC’s pioneering farm-to-table restaurant, The Green Table, has sadly closed its doors.

* Students at Fairmont State in West Virginia will soon have a Mexican organic restaurant on campus.

* Hy-Vee is now offering in-store nutritional tours at its 190 stores.

* Activists confronted riot police at a California farm that supplies eggs to Whole Foods.

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