Major Food Brands are Spending Millions to Avoid Transparency

121107084119-gmo-food-proposition-37-story-topA consortium of several major food and chemical companies have spent more than $22 million to combat legislative action aimed at forcing companies to label genetically modified food (GMOs).

Washington state legislation has introduced Initiative-522, which says food labels must disclose whether the product has been genetically modified. This is the first government measure of its kind and, judging by the enormous lobbying efforts put forth by food companies, probably not the last.

In an age where transparency is becoming increasingly more important among consumers, the effort to keep labels as they are could be costly for brands. Several studies released this year have shown labeling impacts purchasing decisions. For example, a GLOBESCAN report found that 86% of global consumers rank labeling transparency as “important” or “very important,” and more than half (57%) admitted that they regularly check labels on the products they buy.

While $22 million may not be a big chunk of change for an aggregate of 300-plus food companies represented by The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the toll may be paid down the road as consumers vote with their feet.

One of the paradoxical elements of the GMO debate is that several food giants like Monsanto stand behind research showing that modified foods carry little to no danger. Yet, these food giants are still unwilling to label their products accordingly. That creates confusion for the consumer and makes it near impossible to cultivate trust and brand loyalty.

For communicators, this could prove to be an interesting case study in the value of full disclosure. Food companies have clearly placed a value on keeping things status quo. However, the question they should ask is what’s ultimately at stake? In other words, which subtracts more from the bottom line: clear ingredient labeling or the loss of your customer's trust?

Follow Caysey Welton: @CayseyW