GMO polling: The whole story (Editorial)

(June 15, 2015) Polling data — often touted in the debate over labeling for genetically modified ingredients — says more than 90 percent of the public wants to know if the food they buy has genetically modified ingredients, and more than half of them say they wouldn’t buy items so labeled.
But, include in that label information that says the food was produced using biotechnology for nutitional benefit and the story changes.
According to the 2014 International Food Information Council’s Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey released last month, the majority of participants said they would be likely to purchase foods modified by biotechnology for various nutrition and health-related benefits.
Seventy-two percent would be likely to purchase food products made with oils that were modified by biotechnology to provide more healthful fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
More than two thirds of Americans say they would be likely to purchase foods improved with biotechnology to reduce the potential for carcinogens (69 percent), be protected from insect damage and require fewer pesticide applications (69), enhance nutritional benefits (67) and eliminate the trans fat content in foods (67).
The majority of Americans, 71 percent, have some awareness of plant biotechnology, the IFTC survey reports.
Twenty-eight percent are favorable toward plant biotechnology, with significantly more consumers this year (28 percent) reporting being unfavorable than in 2012 (20).
However, 43 percent of consumers are neutral or say they don’t know enough to form an opinion.
Interestingly, millennials (ages 18-34) weighed in at 38 percent being favorable to the use of biotechnology — compared to one-quarter of consumers between the ages of 35-54 and 24 percent of consumers 55 and older.
More than seven in 10 consumers agree that modern agriculture — conventional farming using today’s modern tools and equipment — can be sustainable (74 percent), produce high-quality foods (72), and produce nutritious foods (71).
More than two-thirds at 68 percent also agree that modern agriculture produces safe foods.
Slightly more than half agree that modern agriculture farms are still primarily family-run, highlighting a lack of awareness of the family-run nature of most of today’s small- and large-scale farms.
In its 16th year, the IFTC survey has consistently shown that when made aware of the health and agronomic benefits of food biotechnology, most Americans are receptive, indicating that accurate information about the technology is important to promoting informed food choices.
The debate over GMO labeling rages on as a few states have passed laws requiring labeling and last month two counties in Oregon voted to ban planting GM crops all together.
While the state laws are expected to be tied up in court battles for the near future, a coalition of 30 food industry group advocates for what may be a compromise in a federal law to create a voluntary labeling through the U.S. Food and Drug administration to “eliminate the confusion and uncertainty of a 50-state patchwork of GMO safety and labeling laws.”
If any of this legal wrangling results in a label, voluntary or mandatory, plastered across boxes of breakfast cereal, packages of cookies and hundreds of other products on the grocery shelf, make it mean something.
Consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they eat.
They owe it to themselves to know. But they’ll benefit the most knowing the whole story — that no substantive scientific research differentiates GM foods in a harmful way from other foods — and then deciding for themselves.
A label that confuses or outright misleads people to think one food is bad or dangerous will just waste time and money.
Haven’t we had enough of that?