• A paper recently published in the journal Applied Economics Perspectives and Policy explores how labels identifying the process in which food is produced positively and negatively influences consumer behavior. More specifically, the researchers analyzed more than 90 academic studies on how consumers respond to food processing labels. The study includes a list of common process labels, available here (See Table 1). Examples include “organic,” “genetically engineered (GE),” “free range,” “fair trade,” “cage-free” and the list goes on.
  • The researchers found, in part, that food labels (such as “organic” and “fair trade”) may stigmatize foods produced with conventional processes even when there is no scientific evidence that conventionally produced foods cause harm or that such products are compositionally different from “organic” or “fair trade” products.
  • The report offers three policy recommendations:
    • Mandatory labeling of food processes should occur only in situations in which the product has been scientifically demonstrated to harm human health.
    • Governments should not impose bans on process labels because this approach goes against the general desire of consumers to know about and have control over the food they are eating, and it can undermine consumer trust of the agricultural sector.
    • A prudent policy approach is to encourage voluntary process labeling, perhaps using smartphone technology similar to that proposed in 2016 federal legislation related to foods containing ingredients that were genetically engineered.