Despite widespread scientific agreement that genetically modified foods are safe to consume, the vast majority of Americans disagree and are unlikely to change their opinions unless they can first be convinced to open their minds, according to new research.
A study published Jan. 17 in Nature Human Behavior revealed that more than 90% of the 2,000-plus US and European adults surveyed by researchers at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania reported some level of opposition to GMO foods.
In addition, 93% reported some level of concern and 73% cited food safety or health concerns specifically. Yet, when researchers tested respondents’ objective knowledge about genetically modified foods with a series of 15 true-false questions, they found those who most opposed the use of genetic engineering in food also had the lowest actual knowledge about the technology.
On the surface, this disjoint could be explained away as a general fear of the unknown. Except the study also evaluated participants’ self-assessed knowledge, or how much they thought they knew about the topic, and found that those who held the most extreme views about GMOs also often thought they knew the most about the topic.
The difference between real and perceived knowledge highlighted in the study could explain why efforts by the scientific community and advocates for genetic modification have not significantly moved the needle in the ongoing debate about GMOs in the food supply.