August 11, 2015

Amid debate over labeling GM foods, most Americans believe they’re unsafe

Views on Safety of GMOs by Key DemographicsThe debate over the safety of genetically modified foods has put state lawmakers who favor requiring labeling of these products at odds with counterparts in Congress who oppose it. Americans’ concerns about GM foods are providing the backdrop: A majority of them believe such foods are generally unsafe to eat.

The House last month passed a bill that would nullify any state laws that require labeling, dealing a blow to state lawmakers and advocates who support such a move. A similar bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate. This comes after three states – Vermont, Connecticut and Maine – passed legislation this year making GM food labeling mandatory; dozens of other states are exploring similar bills on the issue.

As this issue plays out on Capitol Hill, polls show that a majority of Americans support labeling genetically modified foods, and half check for GM food labels while shopping.

More than half (57%) of U.S. adults believe that GM foods are generally unsafe to eat, while 37% say these foods are safe, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Women are more likely than men to view GM foods as unsafe (65% vs. 49%). Opinions also vary by race and ethnicity; blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to say that genetically modified foods are generally unsafe to eat.

The Pew Research survey also found differences in views based on education levels and science knowledge. Those with lower levels of educational attainment or science knowledge are more inclined to view GM foods as unsafe.

Checking for GM Food Labeling, by Key DemographicsThese opinions stand in contrast with those of American Association for the Advancement of Science members surveyed, who by a wide margin (88%) say GM foods are generally safe to eat, with only 11% of this group describing such foods as unsafe. But most Americans aren’t sold on the idea that scientists have a full understanding of the safety of GM foods. Two-thirds (67%) of U.S. adults believe scientists do not have a clear understanding of the health effects associated with genetically modified crops, compared with 28% who say scientists do have strong knowledge of the issue.

For some, checking for GM food labels is something they routinely do. Half of the public say they at least sometimes look for GM labeling when food shopping, including a quarter who say they always do so.

In general, those who consider GM foods unsafe check for GM food labels more often: 35% of this group always looks to see if products are genetically modified, compared with 9% among those who consider such foods generally safe to eat.

Some two-thirds of U.S. adults say they support labeling genetically modified foods, including 39% who strongly favor this action, according to an Associated Press/GfK poll conducted in December 2014. One-quarter (24%) of Americans are neutral on the issue, while 7% are opposed to labeling GM foods. This support is consistent with a 2013 New York Times/CBS News survey, in which 93% of respondents said foods containing genetically modified ingredients should be labeled.

Topics: Domestic Affairs and Policy, Science and Innovation

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research analyst focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

21 Comments

  1. Patti Holden11 months ago

    It’s about the pesticides, not so much the foods themselves. Geniuses like Monsanto have created Round Up Ready crops–you can douse them repeatedly with pesticides and it won’t hurt the crop. They are deadly for the environment–that’s the biggest issue. Therefore, label GMO’s and we can avoid them, thus protecting the environment. They won’t plant them if we won’t buy them. This is the issue I believe is most important.

    1. Kim Morton11 months ago

      Actually, Roundup is less toxic than 2 organic pesticides, Tylenol, Vitamin D and baking soda. Look up LD 50 ratings. That’s the lethal dose to 50% of the test population. And, there is no “dosing”. The minimal effective amount is used. We’re business people. We don’t waste money. GMOs protect the environment in mant ways. Less trips across the field means a smaller carbon footprint. Less or no tillage means less soil erosion and Bt crops mean no insecticide has to be sprayed, which means the beneficial insects are safe and only the bug eating a particular part of the plant is killed. More importantly, Golden Rice & other nutritional improvements can safe millions of lives.

  2. marcy bernstein11 months ago

    The people want foods labeled as to whether foods contain
    GMO’S. What is so hard about this. Congress needs to stop
    taking money from Agra Business and do the job the people
    want, which is to label the food. They go to the Congressional
    Cafeteria which they passed a law for themselves so they will
    only be served organic foods. If organic is good enough for
    them, then why is it so hard to let us know by a label whether
    our food contains GMO and is not organic. I am just as good as
    them if not better. I help pay their salaries, they work for us and
    not the other way around. Congress needs to do what the people
    want.

    1. Kim Morton11 months ago

      It’s not true that only organic food is served in the Congressional cafeteria. If you want to eat only organic, it’s labeled for you and does not contain GMOs, so you already have what you want.

  3. Vic11 months ago

    Too bad this report did not contain any information about how Democrats, Republicans, and Independents stand on this issue. Republicans are often bashed for being hostile to science, but when it comes to GM foods, much of the strong disagreement with science comes from the Left. (People all love science, except when it conflicts with their personal beliefs or ideology.)

    1. veronique11 months ago

      The general public is just asking to have it on the labels, not remove it from our foods. It is up to the consumer to make that decision. It has nothing to do with political parties. Personally a well informed consumer is always better than a clueless one.

    2. Veronique11 months ago

      This has nothing to do with political parties, why on earth should the senate and congress care if we want things put on the labels, it is no skin off their noses?! Or is it?
      The public is not asking Mosanto and cronies to remove GMO from our supermarket shelves, we are just asking to have our foods labeled.
      Maybe some people don’t care what they put in their mouths?

    3. Monica Anderson11 months ago

      Hello Vic,

      Our follow up report released in July does have opinions about GM Foods by party and ideology. You can read that chapter here:
      pewinternet.org/2015/07/01/chapt…

  4. Ray Smith11 months ago

    Why would the GOP House want to make it ILLEGAL for states or any government agency to protect its citizenry, and attach it as earmark to an unrelated bill at midnight on a Friday to miss the news cycle. The is corrupt bill, written by corrupt agra-budiness, passed by a corrupt congressman, using a dirt tricky practice of our elected officials pandering to big business over the safety of its citizens.

    1. Dee Stonewall11 months ago

      So this is news? Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Anger AND sarcastic.

  5. Jeff West11 months ago

    Here is a flow chart showing which Organic Food Product Companies owned by GMO Corporations:

    gmoawareness.files.wordpress.com…

  6. Joe O’Donnell11 months ago

    Science ignorance continues strong.

  7. Packard Day11 months ago

    If people wish to pay more for their food, then let them pay more. For Iowa farmers, it matters not a whit whether their 200 bushel/acre GMO fields yield $4.00 corn or their 50 bushel/acre non GMO fields yield $16.00 corn. You want organic? We can do organic? Just be prepared to pay a little bit more for the new assurances of “dietary health safety.”

    1. Jeff West11 months ago

      Packard Day, ultimately, there are hidden costs associated with human engineered crops that negatively alter the ecological balance versus crops that organically and proportionally work with the normal cycles and tolerances of nature.

      Using your logic, and without labeling of such foods, then demand of GMO food would go up. It has been the goal of these companies to maintain demand, which is the reason for their fight on labeling legislation. Higher demand stresses the supply of GMO foods, which will result in higher costs per bushel. What about the costs of GMO-seed royalties, and pesticide use and application? I argue that pesticides and GMO-seed royalties cost farmers more than lower yields from the Organic farming methods.

      If you consider how many GMO producers own Organic food companies, the food scarcity paired with the proposed GMO-seed fix sounds more and more like racketeering activity.

      1. Kim11 months ago

        Jeff West, if farmers netted more profit growing organic or non-GMO crops, then that’s what we would do. We’re much smarter than you apparently realize.

      2. Packard Day11 months ago

        My intent was only to note the obvious. That is, if you wish to dance at the “big non-gmo food dance,” then you are going to have to pay the band. America’s farmers stand happily ready to give you (the consumer) exactly what you want…for a price. For what it is worth, there is also a coal-free energy lesson to be had here if you care to look.

        1. Jeff West11 months ago

          Are farmers willing to pay for the negative consequences of GMO crop production?! If BP can be held responsible for an oil spill in the Gulf, GMO farmers should be held responsible, likewise, for negative ecological impacts and health downturns. If you trust the integrity of your product, take a stand next to it and label your products. To do otherwise proves that your story is false and food product safety is not what you say it is.

          1. Frank P11 months ago

            Jeff, could you please cite some examples of these “negative ecological impacts and health downturns”?

          2. Z11 months ago

            Immediately following the labeling of food products as GMO, Jeff West returns to the debate board. “If GMO’s are so safe, then why do they have to be labeled, HUH?”

            My sweet, sweet summer child. Not everything is staged moon landings and flatearths. The reality of this “label” debacle is simply the statistics you see above- most consumers are still ignorant to the facts of GMO safety despite an overabundance of facts available, and labeling it would lead to a loss of profits regardless of how safe they are.

          3. Kim11 months ago

            Jeff West, what are those negative consequences? I’ve found none. Neither has science. Labeling isn’t necessary for liability. Processed food not labeled otherwise that contains corn, soy, sugar, canola or cottonseed oil is overwhelmingly GMO. You can’t trace it back to the farm, but it’s GMO. As for trusting the integrity of our products, who handles it, eats it, feeds it to their livestock? We do. And have since 1996.

          4. Michael Davey11 months ago

            Yes, by all means, please provide actual facts rather than assertions. I’ve looked into this and I’ve not found any evidence of what you are saying. Everything I have found that is negative has been a put up job by anti GMO people.

            I want facts, not baseless assertions.

            We’ve been eating GMO foods for a decade now. They have been planted for twice that. Please provide assertions that can be checked rather than generalities.