Viewpoint: Half of America admits they don’t know much about GMOs. That’s a problem

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Do you know what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are? Could you explain it clearly to a twelve-year-old? If your answer to these questions is “no,” you’re not alone. In a survey of Americans, 48 percent said they know “very little” about GMOs, and 16 percent said they know “nothing at all.” Eighty-one percent of Polish students surveyed answered that they either “know very little about” GMOs or that it’s “unlikely” they know what GMOs are. In Latvia, half of survey respondents said that an ordinary tomato does not contain genes, but a genetically modified (GM) tomato does.

Despite widespread ignorance of what GMOs are, the dominant attitude toward them in most countries is decidedly negative (in the best cases, it’s neutral). For example, a Pew Research poll in 2015 found that 57 percent of Americans (excluding scientists) regard GMOs as unsafe to eat. Yet by some estimates, as much as 75 percent of processed foods Americans eat contain at least one genetically modified ingredient. Given the prevalence of GMOs, it’s important for consumers to understand the arguments and evidence for and against them to better evaluate claims about their safety and policy proposals regarding their legalization and labeling.

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