The labels on packages of Savoie's popular Cajun food products like andouille, boudin and smoked meats are about to get more crowded.
"If you sell a one-pound pack of sausage, there's only so many square inches on there that you have, and there's already a lot of requirements," said Freddie Lafleur, president and chief operating officer of Savoie's Sausage and Food Products in Opelousas.
Now, Lafleur and food makers across the country are clearing room for one more requirement: new labeling to show whether the product contains genetically modified ingredients.
Amid a hot-button debate playing out across the country about the use of such ingredients, dozens of states in recent years have considered requirements to label if an item contains GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. For a brief time this year, Vermont became the only state to make it law, but now the federal government has done it.
"It's the consumers that are pushing this trend," said Gaye Sandoz, coordinator of the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator, a commercial kitchen at LSU that works with small food businesses. "They want transparency, and they want to know where their food is coming from. That's why local is so popular right now."
Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law federal requirements that food producers must label any products made with genetically modified ingredients.
Some in the food industry warn that the requirement may confuse consumers or lead them to believe that some products are healthier or safer than others, which could hurt sales.
The Agriculture Department estimates that 88 percent of the U.S. corn crop in 2012 involved altered plantings. Such scientific innovations can include engineering organisms for specific agricultural benefits, like resisting diseases or pests.
In fact, the vast majority of Louisiana's staple crops like soybeans, corn and cotton are produced from genetically engineered seeds, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Looking ahead, the Agriculture Department has two years to decide on regulations for companies to follow and to specify what ingredients will qualify as genetically modified.
Food makers will have a few options, such as displaying a product's GMO contents in writing, with a logo or using a QR code that can be scanned using a smartphone.
For Lafleur, whose company has 85 employees, the choice is obvious.
"It would be difficult to add this type of information to an already cluttered label," he said, "but if you can put it where you can scan it with a smartphone, that might alleviate part of that problem."
That's also the method being adopted by New Orleans-based Reily Foods Co., which makes local staples like Blue Plate mayonnaise, French Market Coffee and Luzianne Tea.
Reily's president, David Darragh, will begin rolling out QR codes on products this year. The easily altered codes can provide consumers with up-to-date information on an item beyond its genetically modified ingredients, whereas changing a product's packaging can be costly and time-consuming, he said.
"It's just the right technology for conveying all of the information that we can to consumers," he said.
Despite the change, many consumers don't heed the advice of labels that already are readily available, much less ones that require additional steps like scanning a code, some marketing experts say.
"If people want something, the labels in and of themselves don't necessarily deter people," said Janet Schwartz, an assistant professor at Tulane University who studies consumer behavior. Some consumers who might be sensitive about using GMO products may be pleased with the labels, however.
The biggest issue surrounding GMOs deals with perception, she said.
A report released last year by the Pew Research Center showed a wide difference of opinion among the public and scientists. While 57 percent of the public said they believe GMOs are generally unsafe to eat and only 37 percent said they are safe, 88 percent of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science who were surveyed said they think the products are generally safe.
"People think that 'genetically modified' somehow means artificial or dangerous or science-fiction-ary or unnatural, and the reality of it is that many of these groups are perfectly natural," Schwartz said. "It's essentially the merging of genes that naturally occurred in order to make the food appear better, last longer, resist some type of pest or grow in a drought."
If labeling ultimately was going to become mandatory, many in the food industry preferred a nationwide standard rather than operating on a state-by-state patchwork of rules.
But food makers already steering clear of GMOs say the new mandatory labeling requirements could help make consumers more knowledgeable about what they eat.
Richard Hanley, who started Hanley's Foods in Baton Rouge in 2012, sells five varieties of salad dressing that are available in hundreds of stores throughout the South. His motto is printed on each bottle: "No Gluten. No GMOs. No Junk!"
"I started learning more about GMOs, and we got together and just made that call — what I thought was an obvious call — when we started four years ago: Let's keep things clean," said Hanley, who produced more than 250,000 bottles by hand in two years before scaling up to an automated process in the New Orleans area.
Hanley appreciates some of the benefits for farmers, but he's focused on using only what he considers to be healthy and high-quality ingredients.
"For us, I think it's spending a little bit more for a premium-made product, showing the world that we should invest in quality things," he said.
The decision to avoid GMOs adds as much as 13 percent to his costs.
"I think it's great," he said of the new labeling law. "It's going to raise a little bit more awareness about, 'Hey, what's in your food?' It's not always about the nutritional factors; it's about the ingredients."
Schwartz, the Tulane professor, said she believes the labels may create some initial buzz but ultimately will "end up being another label."
"Consumers have other considerations, and so this is one of many things that go into an evaluation of a product and whether or not it is right for people," she said.
Lafleur also is skeptical of the law's impact.
"I'm not sure that the increased regulation is going to justify the expense for both the government and the companies," he said.