Navigating the Grocery Store Aisle



One of the most comprehensive studies of consumer perceptions of GMO foods was done by the Pew Research Center [1] , a nonprofit that conducts public opinion research. They surveyed consumers about a variety of food preferences in 2016 and 2018, allowing for comparison over time of certain questions that were in both surveys, and multiple researchers have used this data to assess trends. Combined with additional academic research, the literature can be broken down into the following general findings: Overall, the Pew survey data found that a large minority of consumers fear the impact of GMOs on human health (Funk and Kennedy, 2016; Funk et al., 2018), an attitude that has increased over time. In 2016, 39% of those surveyed in a representative sample believed that genetically modified foods were worse for a person’s health, compared to 48% who said they did not believe t here was a difference between GMO and non-GMO foods. In the 2018 survey, the number of consumers who believed GMOs were unhealthy had risen to 49%. Both surveys assessed respondents’ general science knowledge using a nine-point scale, and the increase in concerns about GMOs primarily occurred among those with a low level of science knowledge (an increase of 23 percentage points); this population also had the greatest percentage of respondents state they were concerned about GMOs (52% compared to 38% of thos e with high science knowledge in 2018). It’s interesting that 10% of consumers believed GMO foods were healthier in 2016, which had dropped to 5% in 2018. Conversely, 55% of Americans in 2016 stated that organically grown produce, which cannot be genetical ly modified, was healthier than conventionally grown. Thus, there appears to be significant distrust of bioengineering technology and a preference for food that is perceived as more “natural . ” Perceptions of the health effects of GMOs were related to how interested the respondent was in the issue of genetic modification overall. In the 2018 survey, eighty percent of those who cared deeply about the issue of GMO foods believed they were worse for one’s health (an increase of 5% from 2016), compared to 20% of those who did not care much or at all (versus 17% in 2016). Though a large minority of consumers noted health distinctions for GMO foods, only 16% of respondents in 2016 stated that they actually cared deeply about the issue of genetic modification; however, by 2018 this had risen to 22%. It’s not surprising that those who cared most strongly about the issue were those with the largest concerns, driving some of the prior findings. The 2018 survey asked about consumer behavior towards food additives and labels, and 89% of concerned consumers purchased food based on nutrition/ingredient labels, while 74% had bought food labeled GMO-free, relative to 57% and 26%, respectively, for those who did not care about the issue of GMOs. Turning to preferences for organic produce, in 2016, 81% of those who cared deeply about the issues of GMOs considered organic produce healthier, compared to 35% of those who cared little about the issue. By 2018 these values were 65% and 29%, respectively; thus, while those who cared deeply about GMOs were consistently twice as likely to state that organic was associated with


Made with FlippingBook flipbook maker