Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Many Americans favor GMO labeling on food products, but few understand what it means

Independent polls keep reporting that many Americans favor genetically modified labels on foods, yet ballot measures requiring such labeling keeps getting shot down, sometimes in the same states where surveys said residents were strongly in favor of labels. While some people argue that industry lobbyists are swaying votes, the real reason GMO labeling doesn't pass at the ballots is because most people have no idea what it means, so they vote against it, Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post. (Associated Press photo)

"The data supporting this interpretation—that Americans don't actually know a lot about genetically modified foods, and so polls suggesting they support their labeling should be taken with a major grain of salt—are fairly compelling," Mooney writes. "One 2013 survey conducted by researchers at Rutgers University found that 54 percent of Americans say they know 'very little or nothing at all' about genetically modified foods, and 25 percent have never even heard of them. Only 26 percent of Americans, meanwhile, were actually aware that GMO labeling is not currently required."

William Hallman, lead researcher of the study, told Mooney that "when people don’t know much about a subject, how you ask them a question about it largely determines the answer you get back." Hallman said 90 percent of Americans say GMO labeling is a good thing when asked directly about it, but when respondents are asked what labels they'd like to see, only 7 percent come up with GMO on their own.

John Gastil, a professor at Penn State University who studies ballot initiatives, said these initiatives generally do worse than initial polls suggest they'll do, Mooney writes. Gastil told him, "The reason is that fortunately, we have an instinct which tells us, if we don’t understand something, perhaps we should vote against it. That’s a general phenomenon that many voters use as a heuristic." (Read more)

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