Pew survey: 57 percent of US adults think GM foods unsafe

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — A majority of scientists may have confidence in the safety of genetically modified/bioengineered foods, but a majority of US adults are skeptical, according to two Pew Research Center surveys released Jan. 29.

A survey of 2,002 US adults found 57 percent said they believe genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat, which compared with 37 percent who said they believe the foods are safe. The other survey of 3,478 US scientists belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) found 88 percent said they believe genetically modified foods are safe while 11 percent said they believe the foods are unsafe.

Two-thirds of the respondents (67 percent) said scientists do not have a clear understanding about the health effects of genetically modified foods.

In the study, 25 percent said they always looked to see if products are genetically modified when food shopping. The percentages were 25 percent for “sometimes,” 17 percent for “not too often,” 31 percent for “never look” and 2 percent for “don’t know/no food shopping.”

Also in the survey, 47 percent of men said they believed eating genetically modified foods is safe while 28 percent of women said they believed the foods are safe. Fewer blacks (24 percent) and Hispanics (32 percent) than whites (41 percent) said they believed eating genetically modified foods is safe.

The two surveys covered other scientific issues such as using pesticides, using animals for research purposes, childhood vaccines, fracking and bioengineered fuel. Respondents were surveyed by landline and cellular telephones Aug. 15-25, 2014. The margin of sampling error for results based on all adults was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The scientists were surveyed on-line Sept. 11 to Oct. 13, 2014. The margin of sampling error for estimates about the full US-based membership of AAAS was plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.

When asked whether it was safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, 28 percent of US adults said yes and 68 percent of scientists said yes. In the study of US adults, people with more education were more likely to have said they believed foods grown with pesticide are safe to eat. While 38 percent of men said they believed foods grown with pesticides are safe to eat, 18 percent of women said they believed the foods are safe.

When asked whether they favored increased use of bioengineered fuel, 68 percent said yes and 78 percent of scientists said yes.

In the study, 79 percent said science has made life easier for people while 15 percent said it has made life more difficult. In the US adult study, 62 percent said science has had mostly a positive effect on food, which was down from 66 percent in 2009, and 34 percent said science has had mostly a negative effect, which was up from 24 percent in 2009.

“While the public is still broadly positive about the contributions of science to society, there has been a slight rise in negative views across a number of measures, suggesting some softening in the perceived value of science to society,” said Cary Funk, associate director of science research at the Washington-based Pew Research Center. “These patterns will be important to watch over time.”

For more information on the surveys, visit www.pewresearch.org.
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