News from Cornell University:
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
Now, amid public debate about whether food companies should list
genetically modified (GM) ingredients on their labels, that same
deliberative process may be crucial to the perceived legitimacy
surrounding controversial decisions.
A Cornell University study found
consumers are more supportive of labeling decisions when they believe
the company considered the public’s input in the process.
The study bolsters longstanding research into the impact of perceived
fairness and transparency surrounding any decision-making process,
known as procedural justice. For the first time, Cornell researchers
investigated how the theory relates to the contentious issue of GM
labeling, with implications for how companies reach their decisions and
communicate them to the public.
For the study, researchers 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
Researchers 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.
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.
The study appeared in the Journal of Risk
“People care about a process, even when they don’t get the decision
that they want,” said study author Katherine McComas, professor and
chair of the Department of Communication in the College of Agriculture
and Life Sciences. “Having a fairer process can lead to a more
acceptable or perceived legitimate outcome, and can improve discourse
even around polarized decisions,” she said.
While the study found people reacted more positively to a decision
when they believed the company engaged the public, any decision that led
to labeling was deemed more favorable compared to either non-labeling
That pro-labeling attitude is in line with other research and
opinion polls showing a preference for GM ingredients to be displayed on
packaging, she said.
Still, McComas and her say the results could provide insCght to risk
managers and decision-makers about the value people place on a process
that incorporates public input.
“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,” McComas said