December 7, 2016

Younger generations stand out in their beliefs about organic, GM foods

There are many divides among Americans when it comes to their views and practices about food, but one of the biggest is the generation gap in attitudes about organic produce and genetically modified foods. Younger adults are more likely than older adults to think organic foods are better for their health and to believe GM foods are worse.

About six-in-ten U.S. adults younger than 30 (61%) say that organic produce is better for health than conventionally grown varieties, as do 57% of those ages 30 to 49. In contrast, 45% of seniors (those ages 65 and older) say organic produce is healthier, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

At the same time, younger adults are more inclined to believe that genetically modified (GM) foods are worse for health than non-GM options. Some 48% of those ages 18 to 29 say foods with GM ingredients are worse for one’s health than foods with no GM ingredients. About three-in-ten adults 65 and older (29%) think GM foods are worse for one’s health.

Younger adults are also more likely to expect GM foods to lead to harm for the population as a whole. Those ages 18 to 29 are more inclined than those 65 and older to say it is very likely that GM foods will lead to health problems for the population (21% vs. 8%). Younger adults also are more likely than those 65 and older to say GM foods will create problems for the environment (25% vs. 9% of seniors). But adults younger than 30 also are more inclined than those 65 and older to expect positive effects from GM foods: 30% say such foods are very likely to help make food affordable, and the same share says GM foods are very likely to improve the global food supply.

There are also at least modest generational differences in eating habits. More younger adults than older ones follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. Some 12% each of those ages 18 to 29 and those 30 to 49 say they follow a vegan or vegetarian diet either strictly or mostly. About half as many adults ages 50 and older say the same (5%).

But in other ways, the buying and eating behaviors of younger adults appear similar to their older counterparts. Roughly similar shares of adults younger than 50 (71%) and older than 50 (64%) have bought organic foods at least once in the past month. And about four-in-ten of each age group say that most or some of what they eat is organic. Some 47% of those ages 18 to 49 say they have bought food that is labeled GMO-free in the past month, as do 41% of those 50 and older.

Topics: Generations and Age, Health, Science and Innovation

  1. Photo of Meg Hefferon

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

  2. Photo of Monica Anderson

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


  1. Anonymous8 months ago

    What about asking about the business side of GM foods? I oppose GM foods in part because of the abusive, bullying practices the owners of GM patents have used against farmers. Monsanto has repeatedly subjected farmers to abusive litigation in an effort to force them into buying the right to use patented seed. I rarely see polls that concern this side of the GM issue and yet I see it as a huge part of intelligent, justified opposition to GM foods.

  2. Anonymous8 months ago

    An interesting bit of language use occurs here, early in the piece. I have seen it elsewhere frequently: in speaking of vegetables, you differentiate between “organic” and “conventional” produce, as though vegetables throughout history have been grown with pesticides, or in a mono-cultural way.
    Perhaps it is semantics, but since pesticides and monoculture are relative new-comers, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the term “conventional” for NON-treated (or mono-culture) crops i.e. organics–and find a more appropriate term for pesticide-laden mono-culture crops?

    1. Andrew Durbin8 months ago

      They use the term “Organic” produce, as though other vegetables are not made of carbon structures. “Organic” uses both pesticides and (sometimes) monoculture, and all vegetables are organic in the chemical sense (i.e. they have carbon). “Organic” is a marketing term based on compliance with a few arbitrary standards, including not using modern pesticides (but other older pesticides are widely used), excluding the use of certain nitrogen fertilizers, and prohibiting genetic engineering (but not radiation or chemical mutagenesis).
      So “Conventional” is conventional in that uses all the best tools available to maximize production while limiting land use, rather then arbitrarily excluding certain technologies. That’s what farmers have conventionally done since the beginning of their craft.

  3. Packard Day9 months ago

    Regardless of age or generation; if you are willing to pay the higher prices associated with producing organic foods, then happy growers, wholesalers, and merchants all stand ready to satisfy your every need.—Of course, and needless to say, the exact same thing could also be said for your desire to own and drive the latest 700 series Beamer or Lexus LS460L…if that makes sense? Can anyone else say, TANSTAAFL?

    1. Anonymous8 months ago

      If the argument were purely for the sake of price? But it is not. It is concern for ultimate, as-yet undefined consequences of pesticide use and lack of diversity that some are willing to pay more for their food.