Eighty-two percent of Iowa grocery shoppers pay attention to food labels when they shop, according to the latest Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index® conducted this winter. However, their understanding of those labels is, at times, inconsistent with the findings of food experts Iowa grocery shoppers trust most and demonstrates overall confusion about what the labels really mean.

The scientific survey, which reached 507 Iowa residents aged 20-60 who have primary or shared responsibility for grocery shopping for their households, is the fourth installment of the Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index®, conducted online by Harris Poll.  The survey is designed to study the factors driving Iowa grocery shoppers’ food purchases.

Over three-quarters of Iowa grocery shoppers (76%) believe that a ‘natural’ label means something and nearly 2 in 5 shoppers (43%) believe that ‘non-GMO’ labels mean the product is safer, although neither of these labels are regulated nor verified by the federal government.

Yet, when asked to name the source they trust most for information about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), the highest percentage of shoppers rank the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) number one. FDA has consistently supported GMOs as safe, stating “the agency is not aware of any valid scientific information showing the foods derived from genetically engineered plants, as a class of food, differ from other foods in any meaningful way.”  

Additionally, FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has said “we are confident that the [genetically engineered foods] in the U.S. marketplace today are as safe as their conventional counterparts.”

Farmers trusted source

The new Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index® also shows that farmers are ranked by the second highest percentage (19%) as the most trusted source when it comes to information on GMOs, ahead of medical professionals, dietitians/nutritionists and six other listed stakeholders. Previously the Food and Farm Index surveys have also found that the highest percent of Iowa grocery shoppers rank farmers first when it comes to the most trusted sources of information about food safety, in general.

Additionally, nearly 9 in 10 (89%) Iowa grocery shoppers believe that ‘grown by Iowa family farmers’ means something, with roughly 2 in 5 (42%) believing it to mean the product is higher quality. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 97.5 percent of Iowa farms are family owned.

“The results seem to point towards an opportunity for farmers to help Iowans understand more about how their food is grown and raised and do a better job in explaining why farmers choose the technology they do to grow crops or raise livestock,” said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. “Through our innovative nature and continuous improvement, we are able to provide safer, more nutritious food options for consumers than ever before.”

“What’s lacking,” says Hill, “is an understanding of how farming practices ultimately benefit farmers and Iowa grocery shoppers. That’s particularly true of GMOs.”

In fact, the new Food and Farm Index also finds that most Iowa grocery shoppers would be influenced to purchase a GMO food when they learn how GMOs can help farmers use less herbicide and other pesticides and help produce foods with better nutritional value (61% and 59% respectively).

“Despite the confusion, Iowans are known as common sense people,” said Hill. “The survey shows that nearly half of Iowa grocery shoppers say they would continue to eat the foods they do even if those foods contained GMOs, and 89 percent are at least somewhat concerned about government regulation that increases food costs. That leads me to believe Iowans don’t support costly labeling for the sake of labeling, if they don’t provide any meaningful information about the health or safety of the food they’re purchasing.”

Factors driving packaged food purchases

Shoppers rank taste (76%) and price (65%) as two of the top three most important factors driving their packaged food purchases – a finding that is consistent with other food purchases in three prior Iowa Farm Bureau Food and Farm Index® surveys.


The Fall 2015 survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of the Iowa Farm Bureau between November 15-25, 2015 among 507 U.S. adults age 20-60, residing in Iowa who have primary or shared responsibility for household grocery shopping. The Winter 2015 study was conducted online February 12-23, 2015 among 506 U.S. adults age 20-60, residing in Iowa who have primary or shared responsibility for household grocery shopping.  The 2013 study was conducted online November 21-December 2, 2013 among 502 U.S. adults age 20-60, residing in Iowa who have primary or shared responsibility for household grocery shopping. For a complete methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Laurie Johns at ljohns@ifbf.org.