Major food companies such as PepsiCo and Wal-mart who opposed legislation to label genetically modified food products in November met in January to discuss labeling genetically modified organisms [GMOs], as reported in the New York Times.
Discussion comes after these companies spent over 40 million dollars campaigning against Proposition 37 in California.
Proposition 37, also known as The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, supported labeling food containing genetically modified ingredients. According to the proposition, the effects caused by altering the genes of plants are not sufficiently studied therefore consumers should have the “right to know what’s in your food.”
The proposition was defeated with 51 percent of voters against labeling.
Though other states are considering similar legislation, these major food companies have not expressed interest in financing opposition like they did in California.
University of Portland associate professor of economics William Barnes believes the change of heart in these companies has to do with the consumer’s demand for transparency.
“The risk of hurt to companies decreases by being transparent,” Barnes said. “Companies don’t want to be seen as evil.”
UP Junior Kelsey Robison recalls seeing significantly more anti-proposition 37 advertisements than support when she returned home for fall break. She said the opposition claimed labeling products with genetically modified ingredients would hurt farmers and increase costs “exponentially.”
The opposition to Proposition 37 argues labeling GMOs will unnecessarily shake consumer confidence and raise food prices.
Barnes agrees that the impact that labeling GMOs will have on the economy is not a question of “if” but of “how much.” However, Barnes believes the change in consumer purchasing will happen slowly over time rather than a sudden dramatic switch in purchasing.
Barnes believes that it is economically safer for companies to be upfront about what is in their food.
“GMOs is a tricky one,” Barnes said. “In terms of economics, I would take the cautionary principle – error on the side of caution. People are rightfully concerned.”
If legislation were to pass requiring genetically modified food to be labeled, Robison says she would try to avoid purchasing it.
“I try really hard as a college student to eat local and organic as much as possible,” Robison said. “There aren’t long term studies [on GMOs] and there’s no way to get info so I want to be cautious. If I have the means to buy it I would definitely do that.”
Robison believes her fellow college students aren’t as informed about genetically modified food or legislation regarding labeling.
“Definitely when it was around election time [peer college students] were just like ‘What the heck is a GMO?’” Robison said. “People don’t know, they’re not informed, or they don’t care.”