A whopping 47% of almost 2,000 US adults surveyed between May 18 and May 20 by consumer research firm CivicScience said they are not familiar with GMOs and are undecided on whether they harm human health.
The remaining consumers are evenly split – 26% to 26% – on whether GMOs harm health, CivicScience reports.
It was inspired to ask US adults their thoughts about GMOs after a definitive study by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found “no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.”
According to CivicScience’s poll, women living in the suburbs are more likely to admit to not knowing about GMOs or having a set opinion on their safety, while men are more likely to agree GMOs are not harmful.
The gender divide on the issue is significant for brands because women are more likely to be the primary shopper for families. Therefore, brands that take a stand on the issue – either by certifying their products are non-GMO or by labeling their products as containing GMOs but standing by their safety – are most likely to influence purchases, CivicScience suggest.
Consumer confusion abounds
The findings mirror those of another recent survey of more than 1,000 adults published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal that found respondents seemed to select conflicting statements about the safety of genetically modified foods depending on how questions were posed.
In addition, the survey found that after subjects were tested on their objective knowledge of GMO foods, their levels of self-reported knowledge declined somewhat and their beliefs about GMO safety increased slightly.
“Results suggest that consumers think they know more than they actually do about GM food,” the authors note.
Labeling may buy consumers time
While these surveys show that consumers may be split on the safety of GMOs, most consumers agree that they should be labeled, according to a recent Harris Poll that found 75% support labeling legislation.
Social listening analysis by IRI that combs through social media references reinforces consumer interest in labeling, identifying it as the most frequently mentioned sub-topic of GMOs – far exceeding references to banning GMOs or specific types of food such as vegetables or meat.
This suggests “that while the debate over the safety of GMOs in food continues, many consumers want labeling so that they can make fully informed purchase decisions” once they sort out where they stand on the issue, IRI concludes.