Consumers Don’t Really Know What GMO Means, New Study Finds

Consumers Don’t Really Know What GMO Means, New Study Finds

Crowd protesting GMOs stock imageAlthough most growers prefer food policy be based purely on science, those who make food policy must contend with public opinion. And few issues unite public opinion like genetically modified (GM) plant and organisms.


Two researchers, Brandon McFadden, an assistant professor of food and resource economics at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, and Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economics professor at Oklahoma State University, wanted to delve into how much the public understands about the GM food, as well as how their opinions might change when presented with new information. Their study has been published in Federation Of American Societies For Experimental Biology Journal.

The two surveyed 1,004 Americans who were demographically typical of the overall U.S. mix of race, education, and income. They placed questions about their knowledge and views of GM food near the beginning of the survey, and again near the end. In between, the two asked questions about GM food and current practices. For example, the two asked if conventionally grown crops can be sprayed with herbicides, with a follow up question asking if GM crops can be.

Most of these scientific questions were simple. The pair asked what percentage of common crops like wheat and corn grown in the U.S. are GM plants, and if there currently any GM animals on the market.

What they learned is that, after participants went through the list of basic questions about GM food, there was a noticeable shift in attitude.

“People who ‘disagreed’ and people who ‘strongly agreed’ that GM food is safe to eat before answering questions both thought that GM food was more safe after answering questions,” says McFadden.

Specifically, those who either “disagreed strongly” or “disagreed” that GM food was safe to eat shifted from 33.7% before answering questions about GM food and policies changed to 29.8% after the questions.

The survey was made up of neutrally phrased questions. There were no paragraphs explaining GM techniques or policies.

“We did something similar — asking a belief question before and after information — with information from the scientific community, and asking knowledge questions is more effective in changing beliefs than providing information from the scientific community,” McFadden says.

Other Findings From The Study

The study revealed several other intriguing facts:

  • 84% support mandatory labeling for GM food. However, 80% support similar labeling for food containing DNA. That said, only 33.5% thought ordinary tomatoes lack genes while GM tomatoes have them.
  • 64.6% believe experts should set food policy, not average Americans.
  • “Our research indicates that the term ‘GM’ may imply to consumers that genetic modification alters the genetic structure of an organism, while other breeding techniques do not,” McFadden said.
  • 58% believe the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should decide if mandatory labeling. Survey participants were offered five choices in all plus “I don’t know.” Those choices included both national and state level ballot initiatives and legislative bodies.

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AS I stated in another publications blog, it’s not so much about the eating safety as it is about the texture and taste. GMO’ed food products tend to taste bland and cardboardish….safe to eat or not. That’s where the public is really naïve.

Matt says:

Without knowing WHO they surveyed, it is hard to draw any conclusion. If you surveyed people at Whole Foods or any of the stores where people seek out organic or conventional NON-GMO foods, then the survey would be different. If you survey a cross section of population at large, most can’t name who their congressional representatives are either. This is SAD.

Most of the articles here lately are about supporting GMO foods and the companies that produce those seed crops. I guess that makes sense if your financial contributions come mostly from their advertisements.

The simple fact is that the organic and non-gmo markets are growing at double digit levels and have been for more than a decade. The conventional GMO market has remained flat and in some segments has contracted. Even the conventional grain growers are questioning GMOs, but not due to safety, rather due to cost.

I read MANY different blogs and farmers forums. There are MANY guys who want to go back to conventional corn just to save on the technology fees for GMOs. These companies are trying to extract every dollar from the producer in the form of technology fees. When a conventional spray program yields the same or more than a GMO crop, has a potential profit bump, if only a few pennies per bushel, from being non-gmo, then why would a producer keep handing money to a seed company for a product that is not helping him out?

I find these “Surveys” misleading, sampling section deficient (survey the masses and your get crap answers) and are biased towards a pre-determined end. If I did the same survey at Whole Foods or local organic co-ops, then the results would be very different. The main take away is that most people don’t care. Those that do care want labels and are being very vocal about it. Those that don’t care also don’t care about the label so in essence the people calling for the labels win.

When large agronomic companies like Frito-Lay, General Mills and others are going through NON-GMO Project verification or offering Organic options of their staples items (Ruffles Chips, Lay’s Potato Chips, Cherrios, etc.), the GMO industry has to be in panic mode. They know that if more companies move to the NON-GMO project verification and consumers start to notice this, then they will have loss in profits due to technology fees down the road.

Labels shouldn’t scare anyone. NON-GMO project is NOT organic. It is conventional crops as they have always been, without the GMOs. Whether they are safe or not, no longer matters to most consumers. People equate GMO with bad and nothing is going to change that perception in the future. The industry did not come out and promote them, publically, explain how the technology works or why it is safe. They instead used fear, intimidation of farmers, bribing elected officials and many other tactics that most people associate with someone who is trying to hide the truth.

THAT is the real problem with the GMO “industry” and why most consumers don’t trust them. It is also why consumer sentiment is not going to change any time fast. Monsanto would have been smart to put a different name on their seed business. All people think about when they hear Monsanto is Agent Orange, DDT and by association that makes GMO bad. Monsanto always denied any wrong doing or that their previous products were NOT dangerous. After this was proven false and the government forced these items off the market, Monsanto and that brand name, in my opinion, was forever tainted. This association of “bad faith” is now attached to ALL GMOs, sold by ANY company.

crush davis says:

Most people would probably also say that “organic” farming [which is an inane name anyway, considering conventional crops also have carbon in them] is still small-scale, “mom and pop” growers. And, organic growers do nothing to discourage the notion that they are small-scale, “mom and pop” growers, constantly fighting oppressive BIG AG [read, “Monsanto.”] The reality is far from that. Organic farming is a multi-billion dollar industry, driven by sanctimonious activists who rake in money hand over fist, without offering any real solutions beyond what works for them. It contributes nothing to the problem of providing the millions of bushels of corn, beans and wheat that conventional ag now produces (much of which is transgenic), that would disappear if the organic movement had its way. That’s a fact. I think it’s despicable that organic growers and their very vocal supporters are content for the public to be misinformed about their methods and motives so THEY can continue to be lucrative. Organically-grown apples are no more nutritious, or safer, than conventionally-grown apples–if they are both grown and handled according to GAPs. So that’s why I don’t support the organic industry. They can make my share of their $43 billion somewhere else.

Matt says:


You seem very bitter. Organic production is NOT just about the safety of the final product, but the entire chain from seed to product. I wasn’t commenting to bash on GMO producers, etc. It was a comment that showed that when polled at large you can get the public to answer any way you want based on how you ask the question. We have even seen people signing petitions to repeal the 1st amendment.

“Organic” production is more about the sustainability, safety and ultimately choice about how consumers want their food raised. Producers look simply at what earns them the most return at the end of the season. The truth is that most organic producers are NOT using 100 year old varieties. In many cases they are growing the SAME varieties the conventional farmers is, but without the conventional inputs. For conventional growers the GMO crop actually produces LESS than it’s unmodified parent. Some energy is diverted to producing the traits that the GMO crop brings to the table. In many cases these traits cause yield drag.

This is the reason I brought up the fact that many conventional growers are looking for NON-GMO corn. They are planning on spraying their crops anyway for weeds so why not tank mix for insects at the same time? Most seed, both conventional AND GMO comes with seed applied treatments that accomplish the same goal. GMOs are now mostly about insurance for the farmer than they are about yield increase or insecticide avoidance. Many areas have glyphosate resistant weeds so farmers must spray a herbicide anyway to cleanup the resistant weeds.

My father paid $270/bag for pioneer corn with multiple traits last year. The neighbor bought the SAME variety, without the GMO traits for $100 less per bag. That is some serious cash. The technology fees cost more than multiple passes across the field. In the end the neighbor’s crop (of the same variety) yielded a few bushels more than Dad’s and the guy saved money on the technology fees. He doesn’t give one hoot about GMOs. He just wants cash in his pocket, which conventional corn gave him.

As to organic veggies vs conventional. Yield is usually the same or very close to the same. Organic farmers still use fungicides (Copper, Sulfer, Bio-Controls, Potassium Bi-carbonate, etc.), Insecticides (Pyganic, Spinosad, BTs, etc.) and usually rely on cultivation for weed control. Fertilizer is usually manure, composted bird litter, rock minerals (Limestone, Rock Phospate, etc.). Manure is used by almost every dairy farmer I know on their crops. Their yields don’t suffer. Please don’t tell me organic farming yields less than conventional, because it just is not true. Organic farmers who run the same size operations as conventional are yielding just as well. Figuring out nutrient requirements is simple math. People that produce poorly existing in both organic and conventional systems.

If I can grow a crop for 10% more input costs and get a 10% increase in price at harvest, I am going that route as it is a no brainer. Most conventional farms no longer have the time, knowledge or skill to farm without herbicides or chemical inputs. Most don’t plan beyond the next crop or two. It is not right or wrong, it just is how it is. Successful organic farmers have usually been doing it a LONG time. They know what grows well on each piece of land. They can’t quickly fix problems with chemical inputs, so they must take a longer term approach. Light soils usually have deep rooted, drought tolerant crops grown. Mulch is used to hold moisture and provide a slow release nutrient supplement to the existing crop while providing the remaining to the next crop. Can’t dump urea on to fix the problem year one.

This article was about sampling consumer knowledge of GMOs. I said and I still say the method was wrong. The group sampled is NOT the target group for organics or a discussion about GMOs. So it is unsurprising that the article reached the conclusions that it did.

It would be like sampling people about the quality of the water they drink that comes from a well. If you are on city water, you probably know nothing about the operation and maintenance of a well nor about the work required to test and maintain the system. People who live in the country and have a well as their only source of water will probably know more about it. If MOST people live in cities and I sample the population at large, then it is only natural that MOST of the public is going to know nothing about water wells and what goes into maintaining them or how they are maintained.

If, however I sample people who live in the country and almost all have wells, then I will get a different result. This is the same thing that happened with this article.

Jenna says:

What about this sample?

Cliff says:

If you seriously think organically produced vegetables yield even close to conventional you have no clue. Organic production on average yields half of conventionally produced vegetables. It takes twice as much land and inputs to get the same production out of an organic crop than it does a conventional crop, so where’s the good in that? Twice as much land, twice as much diesel, twice as much plastic in a land fill, etc. You need to get you facts straight Matt rather than speculating from “your daddy’s” corn crop. And yes I do know what I’m talking about, I have successfully grown organic and conventional vegetables for many years.

Matt says:

{It takes twice as much land and inputs to get the same production out of an organic crop than it does a conventional crop, so where’s the good in that? Twice as much land, twice as much diesel, twice as much plastic in a land fill, etc. You need to get you facts straight Matt rather than speculating from “your daddy’s” corn crop.}

I am not sure why you are belittling me? I was simply providing facts. Organic production does not yield half, nor require twice as much diesel. These are marketing points for companies who are pushing their own products. Very large transnational companies are involved in production of Organics (Driscoll’s, Earthbound Farms (50,000 acres in 2015), and others). If you read about these farms and their production practices they are almost identical to conventional practices. Inputs (fertilizer, etc.) come from animal waste, green manure, minerals, etc. They spray with organically listed materials, etc. Their yield is just as good or better than conventional on the same land base.

What you may see is small organic “farmers” who have developed an ethos around their farming practices. They may produce poorly or have other traits you find undesirable, but please don’t equate their methods with those of other producers who are significantly more efficient and productive.

Once name calling and put downs start it is a sure sign that facts and rational discussion has ended.

friarjack61 says:

You forgot to ask, if they smoked pot, and if it matters if the weed is GM ?

Debra Deis says:

Why would anyone promote research designed to make their end-user consumers look stupid? There is no reason to think that anyone who doesn’t work in agriculture will be familiar with herbicides and farming practices. I am fairly sure that many people don’t remember what they learned in high school about genetics (if they learned anything at all). Everyone should care about what they are eating, and feeding their families, but not everyone will understand farming or DNA.

Mark Sandstrum says:

This is an interesting article with spirited comments… Interesting because at a dinner party I attended there was an educated couple, both having Master degrees, who did not understand the difference between GMO and plant breeding. In fact we all agreed that we were ignorant and confused about the topic of GMOs. Our ignorance was tainted by the hearsay and propaganda that we had been exposed too. The comments on Ag-business, Organic Farming, where my water comes from also illustrates the obvious ignorance we have unless we have chosen to do the work by researching and sifting through the facts and hearsay to develop our own educated opinion.

Farming is a business and responsible farmers take into account the risks and rewards like any business. Choices are made for what crops to plant, to spray organic or traditional controls, to spray at all, where to market them, how to harvest them are decisions farmers make that effect there own livelihood. Ultimately farming is a business that makes choices so it can stay in business.

I have a lot of respect for people working the land and bringing food to my table. My personal choice is to source local fresh food whenever I can.

Ryan says:

The real issue is transnational corporations controlling the food supply from seed to distribution leaving the farmers just cogs in the machine. The real issue is how much corporate control we want in our food supply, our source of life.
I don’t know why so much focus is put on health risks of GMO. I can’t really imagine there being that many. Maybe people will get cancer from them, who knows.
What’s more important is the corporate, profit-driven agriculture….
Read a little about the history and practices of Monsanto here in the US but especially in Central/South America

Matt says:


The way the current system is structured is that large companies (corporations) are required just to make money. Small farms, even organic ones, usually do not generate enough revenue themselves in order for the farm to go from seed to fork. Even organic co-ops are corporations these days (Organic Valley, Eden Brothers, etc.).

The article was about surveying people on GMOs and if the public at large even knows what GMOs are. Whether the current Monsanto is evil (suing farmers, locking up genetics, etc.) depends on examining issues not really germane to this article. Monsanto was dumb to not change their name when they divested their former chemical/plastics companies.

It’s NO wonder the American people are not aware of GMO’s, when you have big business experts telling the people what they should & should not do; e.g.: SYNGENTA, BAYER, BASE, DOW, MONSANTO & Du Pont they are the very people who manufacture those poisons. You don’t believe they’ll tell you the truth, do you?

Jan says:

I agree on the labeling of GMO, has to be done then people can decide themselves of they want to eat the product or not
Organic is a whole other story.
Organic fertilizers come from animal wastes so how about Salmonella, listeria and other bacteria’s
In my area I see a lot of Organic from Mexico and I know they don’t have the same food safety policies and regulations as US Organic farmers
I would suggest anything you buy read the label carefully, make sure it is grown in the US and always wash before you eat
if you have any concern don’t buy it you are in control of your own destiny

Ray says:

It looks like animals are smarter then our human scientist as they are not paid by GMO companies. They can’t read and write.'t_eat_gmo_corn_food.html

The farmer said, “The first corn is genetically engineered. They won’t touch it.”

It’s not just pigs that swear off genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In South Africa, Strilli Oppenheimer’s chickens won’t eat genetically modified (GM) corn. Most buffalo in Haryana, India, refuse cottonseed cakes if made from GM cotton plants. Geese migrating through Illinois only munched sections of the soybean field that was non-GMO. When given a choice, elk, deer, raccoons, and rats all avoided GMOs. And even during the coldest days of Iowa winter, squirrels, which regularly devour natural corn, refused to touch the GM variety.
Wonder why why we should eat GMO Food?!

This was BTW the first comment on this article and has been removed since! Interesting to say the least!