A Purdue University study suggests many consumers don’t differentiate between organic and non-GMO food labels – and they’re willing to spend more on both.
Agricultural economist Jayson Lusk asked more than 1,000 consumers what they’d be willing to pay for apples and granola bars with an organic label, and a non-GMO label, which means no genetically modified ingredients.
“The extra premium people were willing to pay [was] about the same for those two labels,” he says. “That’s interesting, because one label is much more encompassing than the other.”
The encompassing label is organic – those foods aren’t allowed to contain GMOs, or use any other artificial inputs.
Lusk’s study also looked at the how consumers responded to text and digital QR code labels that regulators are considering using to denote the presence of GMOs.
“Putting the text disclosure of GMOs on a package reduced willingness to pay by more than if you just had the QR code,” he says. “Probably because most people didn’t actually scan the QR code.”
Lusk says all this is more evidence consumers don’t know much about what these labels mean – and that marketing may be skewing people’s perceptions.
“As food consumers, we bear the responsibility to trying to learn and understand a little bit more about what’s in our food,” he says. “It’s our dollars that are being spent.”
But he says food companies and policy-makers should also be mindful of how labeling affects prices – especially how that can hurt lower-income people.