Fear of GMO

Got into a nice comment discussion with Pino regarding my recent post on test-tube burgers.  I know people are somewhat irrationally scared of GMO foods, but I had not idea just how bad this was till I looked it up yesterday.  To wit:

With safety concerns widespread, Americans almost unanimously favor mandatory labels on genetically modified foods. And most say they’d use those labels to avoid the food.

Barely more than a third of the public believes that genetically modified foods are safe to eat. Instead 52 percent believe such foods are unsafe, and an additional 13 percent are unsure about them. That’s broad doubt on the very basic issue of food safety.

That’s just nuts.  Honestly, I think people must hear “genetically modified” and just freak out and lost cognitive capacity.  Would love to see some research on question wording and issue framing on this.  Also of interest, quite a gender gap:

Sixty-two percent of women think genetically modified foods are unsafe to eat, a view that’s shared by far fewer men, 40 percent. Indeed a plurality of men think these foods are safe, while women disagree by better than 2-1.

Similarly, while 49 percent of men say they’d be less likely to buy food labeled as genetically modified, that jumps to 65 percent of women.

As is often the case, would love to run some multi-variate regressions to try and pinpoint just what is driving this gender gap.

Anyway, I love the comment from Itchy on an earlier post on the topic:

Wish I could comment, since I’m married to an expert on this topic. But she’s on a business trip, so I won’t say more than I know.

One thing she’s often said is that virtually our entire diet consists of genetically modified foods — it’s just that they were genetically modified in a slow, painstaking manner over many generations.

Exactly.  And this also reminded me of a great article I read in the Times recently about how we’ve “genetically modified” our fruits and vegetables over centuries to be much less healthy but much more tasty.  Kind of hard to blame humans for that.  Unfortunately, it turns out that bitter is generally healthy:

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.

Anyway, as Mike from Canada explained at length in a comment to that earlier post, there really are some quite serious concerns about GMO foods.  But these concerns have pretty much nothing to do with humans ingesting them.  If people want to oppose GMO foods because they are concerned about unintended consequences to the environment and other systemic threats to human well-being, I disagree, but think it’s reasonable.  What frustrates me is to learn that, despite any evidence to support the view, so many people are afraid to actually eat GMO foods.

Anyway, will still happily eat my test tube burger once it’s affordable :-).

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