Americans see benefits in GMO foods

By Joan Conrow

March 20, 2020

A significant majority of Americans think genetically modified (GM) foods will bring such benefits as a larger food supply and lower grocery prices.

That’s the finding of the most recent Pew Research Center survey, which was conducted of 3,627 panelists last October, with results released this week.

Some 74 percent of those polled think it is at least somewhat likely that GM crops will increase the global food supply, while 62 percent believe GM foods are very or fairly likely to result in more affordable food prices.

The survey also found that overall awareness about GM foods is mixed. Just 29 percent said they have heard or read a lot about GM foods, with 59 percent reporting they had heard a little and 12 percent saying they’d heard nothing.

While 51 percent of respondents think foods with GM ingredients are worse for their health than foods without them, 41 percent thought they were neither better nor worse. Some 7 percent think GM foods are better for their health. According to the global scientific consensus, GM foods are as safe as non-GM foods.

Those who believe GM foods are worse for their health remain concerned about future human and environmental health impacts. But even they acknowledged benefits, with 64 percent saying GM foods are at least fairly likely to help expand the global food supply and 50 percent thinking they will result in more affordable groceries.

Those who said they are have heard a lot or a little about GM foods tended to be more concerned about health issues. Ironically, a 2019 analysis of consumers in the United States, France and Germany determined that the strongest opponents of GM foods actually know little about science, even though they believe they are well-informed.

“What we found is that as the extremity of opposition increased, objective knowledge went down, but self-assessed knowledge went up,” Philip Fernbach, a researcher at the University of Colorado and co-author of the 2017 book The Knowledge Illusion, told The Guardian.

“This is part and parcel of the psychology of extremism,” he continued. “To maintain these strong counter-scientific consensus views, you kind of have to have a lack of knowledge.”

The survey also found that while negative views about the health effects GM food increased between 2016 and 2018 — a period when the Non-GMO Project conducted an aggressive marketing campaign — attitudes have remained stable since then.