Farm Progress

Commentary: Educating the public remains a major challenge for the ag industry.

December 19, 2017

3 Min Read
GMO DEBATE: Some people believe GMO labeling has value, while others aren’t so sure. Note the other “healthy” labeling on this container of orange juice in the photo below.

By Katlynn-Ann Douglass

Genetically modified foods are all around us today. With technologies always advancing, genetically modifying crops is an innovation that could potentially help everyone in the future. A “genetically modified organism” refers to food that is grown from seeds that have been genetically engineered.

I conducted an unofficial survey on Purdue University’s campus of 30 college-age participants about their knowledge of GMOs and their views on the topic. When learning about the different public perceptions of genetically modified products, I discovered many interesting things.

Many people in the Purdue survey said, “I have no idea,” when asked what GMOs are. While most people knew of genetically modified products, they could not define what they were or why they were important. Nineteen percent of U.S. adults have said they have never heard nor read anything about foods with genetically modified ingredients, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

GMO ignorance
This could potentially mean almost one-fifth of our adult population has never read nor heard anything about genetically modified foods, and are uneducated about what GMOs are or what they do. Yet one person surveyed at Purdue claimed to “support the progress and research of GMOs.”

Similarly, 37% of the students in the unofficial Purdue survey also reported having “no opinion at all on GMOs.” Why do so many students not have any opinion?

Is it a lack of information, ignorance, a lack of concern or a difference in how important they believe safety may be?

In that same Purdue study, when asked how they felt about GMOs, one student stated, “They must exist for a reason.” Another student said, “We need to know more about them and how they can affect consumers.”

Do consumers care?
According to Pew in a national public opinion survey, 48% of U.S. adults felt genetically modified foods were “neither better nor worse” compared to foods that were not genetically modified. 

Some people may not be able to tell if there is a difference from genetically modified food compared to food that is not genetically modified. In the survey done on Purdue’s campus, when asked what were their experiences with GMOs, many said they weren’t sure if they had knowingly eaten GMO foods. Marketing may contribute to this misconception.

For example, when shopping for orange juice at the grocery store, many of the containers state they’re “GMO-free” or a “non-GMO product,” when in fact, there are no GMO oranges today anyway.

READ THE LABEL: This orange juice bottle makes several health-related claims, including the fact that it is a non-GMO product. GMO oranges do not exist.

It’s hard to escape the amount of GMO products out on today’s market, but being informed about what they are may help your buying habits. Almost one in five people in the U.S. haven’t read or heard anything about GMOs, according to Pew. Also, at a leading agricultural school, Purdue University, over one-third of participants in an informal campus survey said they had no opinion on GMOs. 

Many people still feel there should be more research conducted on the matter.

Douglass is a senior in ag communication at Purdue University.

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