Most Americans don't know enough about genetically modified crops.
Almost 60% of American consumers have “a fair or poor understanding” of GMO foods, despite generally supporting a recently approved bill to introduce mandatory labelling of GMOs in the US.
That is the finding of a new piece of research, which has also shown that a majority of Americans are unaware of the scientific consensus that genetically modified foods are safe to consume. The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
The vast majority of Americans – 88% – said they support the mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, and 91% agreed that people have the right to know when they buy or eat products that contain genetically modified ingredients.
But fewer than one in five respondents out of a total of more than 1,000 were aware of research that said there was “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialised genetically engineered (GE) crops and conventionally bred crops”.
Nearly half – or 48% – went so far as to say they disagreed that genetically modified foods posed no risk to human health. Only 39% of people agreed that GMO crops were safe to eat, while 27% disagreed.
The labelling bill, approved by Congress earlier this month, calls for the use of on-pack text, a symbol designed by the US Department of Agriculture or a digital QR code to designate foods containing GMOs.
But how the labeling bill will be implemented is unclear, noted Dominique Brossard, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and professor and chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Labeling is an important issue that still needs to be debated at the national level,” said Brossard.
She added that it was “troubling” that only one in five people knew that scientists had not found evidence of adverse health effects from eating GMOs.
William Hallman, also a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and professor of human ecology at Rutgers University, said that the bill could help consumers to improve their understanding of genetically modified foods.
“One potential advantage of using a QR code is that consumers could be linked to much more information about genetically modified ingredients, and how they are produced and regulated, than could ever be printed on a product label,” he said.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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