Politicians often referred to a 90% consumer preference for food labels signaling the existence of genetically modified ingredients—or GMOs as they are known—during this year’s congressional hearings regarding the now enacted “National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.”
This consumer sentiment appeared irrational to some legislative representatives, believing it defied “hard science” showing that GMO foods are “safe” to eat. Others commented on how consumer reactions to GMO foods were highly-charged and fraught with “emotions.”
Unfortunately, the rushed legislative GMO labeling debate only skimmed the surface of consumer psychology as it relates to an expressed desire for GMO food labeling.
Discomfort with new foodstuffs resides in our age-old “omnivore’s dilemma,” where what you put in your mouth and swallow can possibly injure or leave you and your family on your death beds in Darwinian fashion. You are what you eat after all.
Innate emotions—such as disgust, fear, distress, anger and rage—arise from and can be amplified by moral notions of food sanctity and its opposite, food contamination and degradation. As a classic 1970s Chiffon margarine commercial once proclaimed to crackling lightning and thunder: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”
This post examines GMO food labeling from the developing perspective of “moral foundations” psychology, a topic overlooked in recent hearings. In doing so, it exposes the fallacy of the “rationalist’s delusion,”—an outmoded, but convenient line of argument that denigrates innate consumer distrust of GMO foodstuffs.