February 24, 2019

GMO Opponents - Shaky on the Science

Study shows GMO opponents are shaky on the science

Past research has shown that providing more scientific information to opponents of genetically modified foods does not change their views. Now a new peer-reviewed study, published in Nature Human Behavior, shows that the strongest opponents to genetically modified foods are on an especially weak scientific footing.

“Extreme opponents know the least, but think they know the most,” the study authors write.

The researchers asked 2,000 people in Europe and the United States to report their opinions on genetically modified foods, how much they knew about genetically modified foods and how strong their opinions were.

The participants were then asked a series of questions to assess their scientific knowledge, such as “Does a non-genetically modified tomato have genes?”

The study showed that people who were the most strongly opposed to genetically modified foods were also most confident in that they understood the scientific facts—but they scored lowest when that scientific knowledge was actually tested.

Study after study has shown that genetically modified foods are safe, and these foods can improve nutrition, reduce environmental impacts of agriculture and more. Based on the scientific evidence, it has been the official position of ASAS that biotechnology methods, including genetic modification, can be useful in addressing the urgent need for food security around the world.

While the new study is discouraging, it does help reveal the root of extreme opinions about genetically modified foods.

“Our findings suggest that changing peoples’ minds first requires them to appreciate what they don’t know,” said study co-author Nicholas Light in a press release. “Without this first step, educational interventions might not work very well to bring people in line with the scientific consensus.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania. It was funded by the Humility & Conviction in Public Life project at the University of Connecticut, the Center for Ethics & Social Responsibility at CU Boulder, the National Science Foundation and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council.

Read the study

Read the ASAS Policy Statement on Biotechnology