Blog: Katy AskewMore understanding needed of GMOs among consumers

Katy Askew | 20 July 2016

The introduction of legislation requiring the labelling of GMOs in the US has gathered widespread public support.

The bill, which has passed both Houses and is currently awaiting the President's signature, was welcomed by 88% of Americans, research from the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reveals. Moreover, a massive 91% of US consumers believe people have a right to know if food they consume contains GMOs.

With such strong support for GMO labelling – and indeed the weight of the food industry being thrown behind national legislation over state-by-state regulations – it is now important to support public debate on the subject.

The fact is, the majority of consumers are sceptical over the role of science in the food sector. This can, in turn, retard the industry's progress in important public health areas such as product reformulation.

According to the UW-Madison and U-Penn survey, while there is overwhelming public support for the labelling of GMOs, there is little understanding of the debate over their use in the public at large.

Indeed, only one in five people agreed that scientists have not found any risks to human health from eating genetically modified foods. Nearly half (48%) disagreed with that statement. Only 39% of people agreed that "GMO crops are safe to eat”.

Dominique Brossard, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said it is "troubling" that only 1 in 5 people knew that scientists have not found evidence of adverse health effects from eating GM foods.

There are some valid concerns over the proliferation of genetically engineered crops. The unintended side effect of increased pesticide use and harm that this can cause health, cross contamination and the environmental implications should all be taken into account. More sustainable alternatives – such as regenerative agriculture – should be weighed in the debate.

But there should be a debate and it should be based on facts rather than misconceptions.

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