Do Consumers Really Want GMO Labeling?

Mark Bittman on his NYT blog claims:

IT’S not an exaggeration to say that almost everyone wants to see the labeling of genetically engineered materials contained in their food products.


Nationally, on the broader issue of labeling, in answer to the question of whether the Food and Drug Administration should require that “foods which have been genetically engineered or containing genetically engineered ingredients be labeled to indicate that,” a whopping 91 percent of voters say yes and 5 percent say no.  

I agree that's what people will tell you in surveys.  But, as Bryan Caplan has recently put it:

When lies sound better than truth, people tend to lie.

I don't think most people purposefully lie on surveys.  Rather, they often don't think about the consequences of the things they're saying.  In these cases, the "socially acceptable" answer is the easy one to give.  I've literally written dozens of journal articles showing that people will say one thing in a survey and do something entirely different when shopping.

When we look at what people actually buy in the grocery store, the data reveals that they don't buy a lot of organic or non-GMO products.  Why?  Because they're a lot more expensive.  

So, the question isn't whether surveyed people tell you that they are in favor of labeling GMOs.  They real question is what they are willing to pay to get it when they have to put their money where their mouth is.

Addendum: Tyler Cowen's response to Bittman's post is right on the money.