Take a look at any food label and there's a good chance all design elements, from the color palette to the smallest detail, were meticulously chosen.
Some anti-science activists, enabled by academics such as Marion Nestle and political magazines like Mother Jones, want to add the process used to grow food to that list; in this case, whether the food contains anything grown using a genetically modified organism process.
But that tried-and-true social authoritarian approach, get more government laws and force companies to obey, has become less and less effective. The public has learned that companies don't pay, consumers do.
The public wants to be consulted, finds a Cornell University study, because that brings the perception of fairness and transparency in the decision-making process, known as procedural justice. But what horrifies organic corporations and the Deniers for Hire they fund, such as US Right To Know and SourceWatch, is real transparency, like what pesticides were used in the growing process. That's something the public wants transparency about a lot more than GMOs.
In their Journal of Risk Research paper, the scholars asked 450 participants to read one of four fictitious news articles detailing an agro-food company's decision about labeling the GM content of their food products. The mock articles varied on four key points: the decision whether or not to label the presence of ingredients grown from GM seeds, and whether or not the company considered the public's input as part of their deliberations. Participants then gave their reactions on a six-point scale regarding the legitimacy of the process and whether they support the company's decision.
They found a significantly more positive reaction to a decision -- regardless of whether it was to label or not -- when people believed the company engaged with the public and used their input. Even when companies made the generally unpopular choice not to label, the study showed people considered the decision more legitimate if they believed the company listened to their customers rather than made the decision on their own.
A fairer process is what people want, and only the fringes will scream about a conspiracy if they don't get it. So groups who care about labels should include the number of pesticides used, along with what chemicals are in fertilizers. It won't stop people from buying organic to know how many toxic chemicals went into their food, it will likely make them happier when they know procedural justice has been served.
So it is a surprise Big Organic does not embrace real transparency in labeling.
"It comes down to transparency, and this idea that people want the right to know in order to make an informed choice. A process that doesn't involve the public, or doesn't involve their values, undercuts the legitimacy of that decision. Transparency can build trust and legitimacy in that process," said Katherine McComas, professor and chair of the Department of Communication in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in a Cornell statement.