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Uncertainty high on whether to avoid GMO foods

IFIC research finds Americans remain divided on their perceptions of GMO labeling and their use in the food supply.

On the day of a first-of-its-kind law on genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling scheduled to go into effect on July 1 in Vermont, Americans remain divided on their perceptions of GMO labeling and their use in the food supply, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2016 Food and Health Survey.

IFIC has created an interactive map and visual representation of support of GMO labeling, impression of GMO foods, buying GMO groceries and confidence in the food supply safety.

Americans have mixed feelings about the existing GMO labeling policy. Currently, the FDA requires that GMO foods be labeled only if they have substantial differences from their non-GMO counterparts (such as whether there are nutritional differences or potential allergens). Yet there is a lot of buzz about expanding this policy to apply to all GMO foods.

Uncertainty is high on the issue, with 28% of the population unsure as to whether the current policy should be expanded to label all GMOs. Nationally, 44% of Americans show support for an expanded GMO labeling policy that would be applied to all foods containing GMOs.

Slight regional differences exist. The greatest approval of the current FDA labeling policy came from the Midwest (25%), and largest disapproval came from the South (8%).

When asking Americans about their impression of the use of GMOs in the food supply, the responses also varied. Nationally, 51% of Americans are either unsure or had no preference for their use. The greatest opposition for the use of GMOs in food came from the West (33%), and the greatest support for use was found in the Northeast (21%).

“What is apparent from our research is that more education and outreach opportunities need to be made available to consumers about GMOs,” said Kimberly Reed, president of the IFIC Foundation. “According to a report recently published by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), there is no difference in potential or adverse health effects in GMO crops compared to non-GMOs. In other words, GMO crops are as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts.”

Despite the 44% of consumers who support expanded GMO labeling, far fewer of them are actually avoiding GMOs or seeking out non-GMO labels. Nationally, a plurality of shoppers either are not sure or do not express a preference about avoiding or consuming GMOs (42%). Only about one-third (34%) are trying to avoid GMOs.

Consumers are less impacted by labeling in restaurants than they are at the grocery store. Nearly 21% said they buy foods and beverages because they are advertised on the label as non-GMO. This is compared to 14% of Americans who eat at restaurants because they advertised their food and beverages as non-GMO.

However, in an open-ended question asking whether there is information not currently on food labels consumers would like to see, only 3% said they wanted GMO labeling, suggesting that it is not a top-of-mind issue for the vast majority of Americans.

Despite the disparity in perceptions on GMOs, the majority of Americans (66%) are confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply. Only 7% have no confidence. The Midwest had the greatest confidence in the food supply, with 15% being “very confident.” The West had the lowest cumulative confidence, with 30% having “little or no confidence.”

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