President Obama has signed the GMO labeling bill into a law. The mandatory disclosure of the use of GMO ingredients is the latest reaction to an ongoing consumer mandate for transparency from brands and manufacturers.
Image via International Rice Research Institute
The Demand for Transparency Beyond GMOs
The GMO labeling law is a clear result of consumers demanding to know what is in the products they use and consume. This isn’t entirely surprising since 94% of consumers surveyed in our Food Revolution study said it’s important to them that brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what’s in their food and how it’s made. Consumer demand for transparency and product information is certainly not limited to GMO ingredients. More than half of respondents from our survey said they shop according to a specific diet and 71% of consumers surveyed consider whether they have access to the full list of ingredient information when making food purchase decisions.
What Can the Label Insight Database Tell Us?
With the demand for transparency clear, we decided to dive in and learn more. How can consumers educate themselves to make informed buying decisions based on their personal preferences and beliefs? Our database includes information on over 200,000 food and beverage products. Of that, nearly 20% already provide some type of information about GMOs in a variety of different ways. Of the products that we see as providing GMO information, many do so by wearing the badge of USDA Organic Certified. To be considered USDA Organic Certified, products must be free of GMOs. (tweet this fact!)
How can a consumer use this information to their benefit though? For starters, a product that receives the USDA Organic Certification is not required to also state “non-GMO.” If a consumer doesn't know this it can be tricky to understand, so let's break it down even further. If we look at the products in our database that have the USDA Certified Organic certification present, only 38% of the products also state “non-GMO.” This means the other 62%, that are non-GMO, just simply don't state it.
Where The Food Industry Stands Today
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 88% of corn is genetically modified and 93% of soybean is genetically modified (Mother Jones). Of the food and beverage products in the Label Insight database, 29% contain soy, corn, or an ingredient sourced from soy or corn which means they may contain GMO ingredients. Some products have leaned towards transparency by including a non-GMO certification or claim, helping to educate consumers. Certifications and claims are not quite the same thing. The most prevalent product type in our database that includes a non-GMO certification is cereal followed by chips/pretzels and snacks. The most common products to include a non-GMO claim are snack/energy/granola bars followed by fruit juices. There are different types of claims and certifications that manufacturers may use to share information with consumers.
The Variety of GMO Information Available
When looking in the Label Insight database, we see a variety of GMO data provided by brands. In addition to the non-GMO certification and non-GMO claim, some brands call out a non-GMO sourced ingredients claim, a GMO cross contamination disclaimer, and a partially produced with genetic engineering disclaimer. 20% of the products that contain some type of GMO information are certified non-GMO by a third party. The most prevalent non-GMO certification by a 3rd party comes from the Non-GMO Project. They offer “North America’s only third party verification and labeling for non-GMO food and products.”
In addition to there being many ways to provide GMO information, there’s a bit of confusion around some other terms often used by manufacturers. Nearly two-thirds of consumers (60%) assume products labeled as "natural" are non-GMO, according to a Consumer Reports study published in January. However, this is not the case. In fact, the term “natural” is not regulated by the federal government and is used in many different ways on different products.
Transparency Demand Isn’t Going Anywhere
The demand for transparency is clear and consumers expect the manufacturers and brands to the be the ones providing the information. In fact, 67% of respondents to our survey felt the manufacturer or brand should be responsible for providing the information about the food they’re eating. Plus, 37% of consumers surveyed would be willing to switch brands if another brand shared more detailed product information (tweet this stat!).
This means that being transparent with consumers about not just GMOs, but all product information, offers brands an opportunity to build trust and promote loyalty with their customers as well as gain new ones. Now is clearly the time for brands to dive into transparency. One option for this is SmartLabel. SmartLabel is a great way for brands to increase overall transparency and bring complete, accurate product information to consumers. SmartLabel pages give consumers easy and instantaneous access to detailed information about a product. To see how Label Insight helps get businesses up and running with SmartLabel, request a demo today.