© 2022 KUNR
An illustrated mountainscape with trees and a broadcast tower.
Serving Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

People Strongly Against GMOs Had Shakier Understanding Of Food Science, Study Finds

These squash on sale at an Illinois grocery store have been genetically modified to resist a specific virus.
Jonathan Ahl
/
Harvest Public Media
These squash on sale at an Illinois grocery store have been genetically modified to resist a specific virus.

People who most intensely oppose genetically modified food think they know a lot about food science, but they actually know the least, according to a peer-reviewed paper published in January in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

GMOs are widely considered safe by scientists, but opponents have said they want more science on the potential harm so that subjective arguments aren't part of the equation. However, previous surveys have shown that providing more scientific facts about GMOs to people doesn't change their minds.

The survey, conducted by four universities, asked 2,000 people in Europe and the United States how much they knew about genetically modified food, what their opinion was and how intense it was.

Then it went on to ask a series of true-or-false questions about science, ranging from basic issues like whether the core of the Earth is hot or cold to questions on genetics, like "Does a non-genetically modified tomato have genes?"

The results showed the more strongly people reported being opposed to GMOs, the lower their test score.

"A lot of people are upset by genetically modified food," said Sydney Scott, a marketing professor at Washington University in St. Louis, one of the schools that ran the study.

"We have to get people to recognize gaps in their knowledge before we try to teach them new things and have a meaningful discussion," she added.

Opponents of genetically modified food are not putting much stock in the study.

"The real flawed science is that the Food and Drug Administration is not rigorously testing genetically modified food," said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the anti-GMO Organic Consumers Association.

She said her organization wants to see a "thorough scientific review of genetically modified food using up-to-date testing practices."

Scott said Baden-Mayer has a point and reinforced that the study was about the correlation of scientific knowledge and consumer behavior, not just the science of GMOs. But, she said, consumers often are less likely to learn the facts when it's something they feel very passionate about, "especially if they feel like it's challenging their moral values."

"So people might feel extremely about genetically modified food because it's very unnatural in a way they find almost morally upsetting," Scott said.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania also participated in the study, which was primarily paid for by grants from the National Science Foundation.

They plan to follow up with more studies on how the findings may play into other controversial science issues including vaccinations, nuclear power and homeopathic medicine.

This story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration focused on food and agriculture. Follow Jonathan Ahl on Twitter: @JonathanAhl.

Copyright 2019 Harvest Public Media

Corrected: January 28, 2019 at 9:00 PM PST
We incorrectly identified the apples in a previous photo as genetically modified.
Jonathan is the General Manager of Tri States Public radio. His duties include but are not limited to, managing all facets of the station, from programming to finances to operations. Jonathan grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has a B.A in music theory and composition from WIU and a M.A in Public Affairs Reporting from The University of Illinois at Springfield. Jonathan began his journey in radio as a student worker at WIUM. While in school Jonathan needed a summer job on campus. He heard WIUM was hiring, and put his bid in. Jonathan was welcomed on the team and was very excited to be using his music degree. He had also always been interested in news and public radio. He soon learned he was a much better reporter than a musician and his career was born. While at WIUM, Jonathan hosted classical music, completed operations and production work, was a news reporter and anchor, and served as the stage manager for Rural Route 3. Jonathan then went to on to WIUS in Springfield where he was a news anchor and reporter covering the state legislature for Illinois Public Radio. After a brief stint in commercial radio and TV, Jonathan joined WCBU in Peoria, first in operations then as a news reporter and for the last ten years of his time there he served as the News Director. Jonathan’s last job before returning to Tri States Public Radio was as the News Director/ Co-Director of Content for Iowa Public Radio. During Jonathan’s off time he enjoys distance running, playing competitive Scrabble, rooting for Chicago Cubs, listening to all kinds of music and reading as much as he can. He lives in Macomb with his wife Anita and children Tommy and Lily.