With major food companies like General Mills, Kellogg and ConAgra set to introduce new labeling that identifies products containing genetically-modified organisms, the controversial issue is back on the table.
Advocates for labeling GMOs won the most recent legislative battle in Congress, shelving industry-backed legislation that would have barred states from setting labeling rules. But the matter is far from settled. Many Americans still believe, contrary to the scientific consensus, that GMOs are unsafe to eat.
A new HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that 39 percent of respondents said they believe GMOs are “generally unsafe” to eat, compared with 33 percent who believe them to be safe. Another 27 percent said they were unsure.
The most striking divisions in perceptions of GMO safety had nothing to do with political party affiliation, as one might have guessed based on the spirited debate on the labeling legislation in Washington.
Instead, education level and family income showed the widest gaps. Forty-nine percent of respondents with a college degree said they believe GMOs are generally safe, compared with 36 percent who had completed some college and just 22 percent who completed high school or less.
When it came to family income, 51 percent of respondents making $100,000 or more per year said they believed GMO foods are safe to eat, compared with 42 percent of those earning $50,000 to $100,000, and 26 percent of those earning less than $50,000.
The poll did find a wide gap along party lines on questions about trusting scientists.
Half of Democratic respondents agreed that they trusted scientists “a lot,” but only 19 percent of Republicans did. Thirteen percent of Republican respondents went as far as to say their level of trust in science is “none at all,” compared with 4 percent of Democrats.
The poll showed that respondents who trust scientists tend to believe GMO foods are safe. Forty-eight percent of respondents who trust scientists "a lot" think GMOs are safe, compared with 28 percent of those who trust scientists "a little" or not at all.
That overlap is in line with the results of a 2015 Pew poll that found the gap between opinions in the scientific community and the general public on various scientific advancements to be wider on GMOs than any other issue that was included in the poll.
More Americans think the science is unsettled on the safety of GMO foods than think the safety of childhood vaccinations is still in question. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they believe science on vaccination safety is settled, compared with 31 percent who said it requires additional debate.
The poll also found a relationship between belief in the safety of GMOs and childhood vaccines. Seventy-three percent of respondents who think GMOs are safe agreed that the science behind vaccine safety is indisputable. Just 47 percent who said GMOs are generally unsafe also believe the vaccination issue has been settled.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted April 8 to April 10 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.
Joseph Erbentraut covers promising innovations and challenges in the areas of food and water. In addition, Erbentraut explores the evolving ways Americans are identifying and defining themselves. Follow Erbentraut on Twitter at @robojojo. Tips? Email joseph.erbentraut@ .