A New Pew Study Sheds Light On Food & Science

The Lempert Report
January 18, 2017

What do Americans think about scientists and GMOs?

NPR reports on what people really think about some of the hottest of hot-button food controversies from the Pew Research Center’s latest study of consumer attitudes toward genetic modification, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully. 

Here are two important highlights:

1. A lot of Americans don't care what scientists think about GMOs

46 percent say that they care about the issue of GMOs "not too much" or "not at all."

However, 39 percent of the survey participants believe that genetically modified foods are worse for your health than non-GM food.  Just over 50 percent of respondents believe that "about half or fewer" of scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat. Only 14 percent's beliefs match the reality — that "almost all" scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat. Pew finds that there is deep cynicism about the motives of scientists. Americans feel that research findings are influenced in equal measure by the following factors: the best available scientific evidence; desire to help their industries; and desire to advance their careers. In the view of the public, all of those factors are more important to scientists than concern for the public interest. 

2. Food sympathies don't follow political sympathies

Roughly equal shares of Republicans and Democrats (39 percent versus 40 percent) feel that GMOs are worse for people's health. More Democrats than Republicans (60 percent versus 50 percent) believe that organic foods are healthier.  The survey also didn't find any major differences between men and women, or between rich and poor, when it came to views about GMOs or about the healthy qualities of organic food.  

One shining beacon - 72 percent of Americans believe that healthy eating habits are very important in improving one's chances of a long and healthy life, and an additional 25 percent say that it's somewhat important.   

Finally, NPR writes, support for local and organic food seems to be much more mainstream than the opposition to GMOs. Almost three-quarters of Americans said that they bought local food recently, and just over two-thirds said they had purchased organic food. By comparison, a much smaller group — 44 percent — reported that they'd recently bought food labeled "GMO-free."