California Western School of Law Professor Joanna K. Sax is widely recognized for her work on food policy, particularly FDA regulation of dietary supplements and genetically engineered food.
Professor Sax, who is committed to the interdisciplinary study of biotechnology law and food recently presented her published paper, Food Labeling and Consumer Associations with Health, Safety, and Environment, at the Yale Food Systems Symposium. Later this year she will be presenting the same paper at the Eighth International Conference on Health, Wellness, and Society at Imperial College in London, England.
The paper is co-authored with Neal Doran, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
“We were very interested in consumer associations of health, safety, or environmentally friendliness with various labels for food,” says Sax. “There has been a lot of consumer resistance toward genetically engineered food which is called GMO’s but the scientific consensus is that all of the foods from GMO’s that are currently on the market are as safe as any other food,” Sax continues.
Sax and Doran conducted a survey where they asked respondents what specific labels – labels like organic, natural, low fat, fat-free, GMO or non-GMO – meant with different food products and how they rated how healthy, safe, and environmentally friendly they thought each food product was.
“What we learned was that consumers associate the label GMO as being less healthy, less safe, and less environmentally friendly compared to the label organic,” says Sax.
The research also told them that consumers found the label natural – which has no regulatory definition – as being more healthy, more safe, and more environmentally friendly compared to the label GMO. The labels low fat and non-fat also delivered similar results.
“The problem is the associations that they’re making with the labels are not supported by the science,” says Sax.
With malnutrition being the leading cause of death and disease worldwide the ramifications of these misperceptions have a far-reaching effect.
"Scientists can genetically engineer crops to contain nutrients to help alleviate this suffering." says Sax. "We can use science to address major societal problems. Both the regulatory framework and consumer perceptions of risk need to be aligned with the scientific evidence."
Read the full paper here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2787163