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Labeling and your wallet

(article, Culinate staff)

Sure, California's efforts to legalize a statewide GMO label failed at the polls last fall. But more and more manufacturers are voluntarily labeling their foods as being "GMO Free," and in June, the USDA approved a label for meat and liquid-egg products from the Non-GMO Project. 

The label certifies meat from "animals that never ate feed containing genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and alfalfa." Sounds nice, right? Except that, as Modern Farmer magazine recently pointed out, our wallets don't always support our good intentions. 

"Research has shown that a majority of people, when asked, would like to improve the lives of farm animals," wrote Lessley Anderson. "Yet only a fraction of the country will pay for products from those animals, when presented with cheaper options. . . . When people vote one way, then vote a different way with their fork, they unintentionally undermine the very agricultural changes they’re rooting for."

Of course, more and more companies are popping up with products that take the animal (but not the agriculture) out of the equation entirely, including Hampton Creek (egg substitutes) and Beyond Meat (chicken substitutes). But it's too soon to tell whether these products will truly be cheaper than their "real" originals — especially as budget grocery items tend to have hidden environmental and health costs.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley's Hack/Meat events are trying to come up with technological solutions to the problem of getting more sustainable meat to more eaters. Possible solutions include apps that let shoppers identify sustainable products and databases to help farmers find the best pasture available.