Consumers mix up foods labeled “organic” and “non-genetically modified” and some view the two labels as synonymous, according to a new study by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The study, led by UF assistant professor Brandon McFadden with Purdue University agricultural economics professor Jayson Lusk, explored ways to communicate to consumers whether food has genetically modified ingredients. Researchers conducted a national survey of 1,132 respondents to gauge their willingness to pay for food labeled as genetically modified vs. non-genetically modified.
Researchers wanted to know specifically how much consumers were willing to spend on food labeled as “USDA Organic” vs. that labeled “Non-GMO Project Verified.” Genetically modified material is not allowed in food labeled “USDA Organic,” while “Non-GMO Project” means the food has no more than 0.9 percent genetically modified characteristics, the study notes.
Researchers measured respondents’ willingness to pay for a box of 12 granola bars and a pound of apples. Granola bars represent a manufactured food commonly differentiated by its absence of GM material, while apples are a fresh fruit that requires companies to tell if they contain GM material.
In the study, when consumers looked at packages of Granola bars labeled “non-GMO Project,” they were willing to spend 35 cents more than for the boxes that had text that read, “contains genetically engineered ingredients.” With the “USDA Organic” label, consumers were willing to pay 9 cents more.
With apples, respondents were willing to pay 35 cents more for those labeled “non-GMO Project” and 40 cents more for those labeled “USDA Organic.”
The results led McFadden to conclude that consumers don’t distinguish definitions of the two food labels.
“For example, it’s possible that a product labeled, ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ more clearly communicates the absence of GM ingredients than a product labeled ‘USDA Organic,'” he said.