Several years ago, I heard a keynote address at a conference somewhere in the Southwest by Lowell Catlett (former Dean of the College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University) in which he said something to the effect: “It’s not what you don’t know that will hurt you; it’s what you know that’s wrong that will kill you.”
I was reminded of that earlier today when reading about GMOs. A survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF) found that consumers show a strong bias against foods labeled as genetically modified or bioengineered (BE). The survey shows “nearly half of U.S. consumers avoid GMO foods.”
Earlier this week, while thumbing through items on one of the news apps on my smart phone, I clicked on an article listing the top however many things one should do to avoid cancer. As a person of a certain age, such information seems relevant, or so I thought until I got about halfway through and found avoiding GMO foods is part of the plan. The writer offered no legitimate reason to avoid GMO foods other than to say some obscure research report indicated carcinogenic threat—no detail, no accreditation of the research, no mention of the more than 20 years of research showing that GMO foods are safe.
The survey also notes that certain phrases resonate with consumers—natural, antibiotic free, locally grown, and sustainable. No one can argue that such language conjures up images of folks picking and preparing garden-fresh produce on pristine farms, complete with red barns and porch swings.
Defining those terms accurately, however, offers a more challenging exercise. According to some definitions of sustainable, for instance, a conscientious, conservation-minded farmer would sustain himself out of business following guidelines created by folks who have no idea what’s involved in growing food and fiber sustainably—which also means profitably.
The IFICF survey sought to gauge response to new food labels proposed by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) that would identify bioengineered (BE) foods to consumers. The upshot is that consumers would not spend as much on an item displaying the BE logo as they would one without it.
According to the survey, “In every combination, levels of concern across a variety of factors increased—often substantially—when a disclosure label was applied.”
“Despite broad scientific consensus that GMOs are safe to consume, a majority of Americans seem to be convinced otherwise,” said Joseph Clayton, CEO of the IFIC Foundation.
Which reminds me of bad gag I’ve heard for many years. “How do you feel about ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.”
The folks who dismiss GMO products out of hand, display that attitude. They don’t know where their fears are based. And they don’t seem to care much about the facts.