Labels proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to disclose “bioengineered” (BE) foods dramatically increased a wide variety of consumer concerns, especially regarding human health.

Those are among the findings of new research by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation into areas where AMS sought comments on its proposed BE labeling standards, as well as consumers’ views generally of genetically modified foods, or GMOs.

For example, consumers were shown bottles of canola oil 1) without any BE logo or text, 2) with one of the three symbols (a plant, a sun or a smile), 3) with a symbol, plus “bioengineered” in text and 4) with a symbol, plus “may be bioengineered” in text. An additional group of consumers were shown just text disclosure, without any BE logo.

When shown the bottle without any disclosure, approximately one-third (31 percent) of a group of respondents had human health concerns. But that rose to 50 percent when shown the BE “plant” symbol, further increasing to 51 percent when text was added to indicate that the product was “bioengineered,” and to 57 percent when “may be bioengineered” was added to the “plant” logo. Human health concerns almost always showed the greatest increase, compared to other factors such as animal health or environmental concerns.

The survey also asked about broader perceptions of GMOs. More than one-third (36 percent) of respondents said they know very little or nothing at all about bioengineered or genetically modified foods, identical to the number who say they know at least a fair amount. Despite the low level of knowledge, a greater number (47 percent) said they avoid GMO foods at least somewhat.

The vast majority (85 percent) of those who avoid GMOs do so out of human health concerns, with the environment (43 percent), animal health (36 percent) and agriculture/farming (34 percent) concerns trailing far behind.

For the full report and IFIC press release, please click here.