John Phipps: A "Disturbing Trend" in Public Acceptance of GMOs

January 15, 2019 09:30 AM

I have complained often about the lack of horizontal polling for public acceptance of genetically modified food – where the same question is asked in the same way at regular intervals, so the results can be compared to detect opinion trends. Finally, we have one good effort from one of our best public opinion research organizations – The Pew Research Center.

Unfortunately, these rigorous results are not what many in agriculture want the answer to be. First, here is the question that was asked both in 2016 and 2018: “Genetically modified foods are [blank] for one’s health than foods with no genetically modified ingredients”. Respondents could choose better, worse or neither to fill in the blank.

In 2018 the results were 49% said worse, 44% said neither, and 5% said better. While these results are discouraging for GM proponents, more disturbing is the trend.

In 2016, only 39 percent said GM foods are worse. Digging deeper, those with high science knowledge were essentially unchanged, but those with less science knowledge showed sharp increases in the doubts about GM foods. The bottom line is not only are people who can understand the issue not embracing GMOs more, but GM acceptance is diminishing markedly among the rest of the population.

I hope Pew continues to conduct these surveys, but even with just two dots to connect, GM proponents should seriously reconsider their strategy. Maybe even ask some questions like, is the now considerable advocation effort worth it? While a tenuous case could be made with without the constant pro-GMO public relations effort, the results could have been a lot worse, but that’s a pretty small accomplishment. Is it unthinkable to just disengage from this debate? What if our advocating is the driving factor for this trend? That cannot be ruled out.

At the very least, the mini-industry of speakers and organizations that preach to the choir at farmer and agribusiness meetings should be recognized as at best handholding for anxious GMO users, not an effective influence on public opinion.

We don’t appear to have much to lose if simply get out of consumer faces, do our jobs, and let the spotlight shift to other food quarrels. In nothing else, giving it a rest will generate some very usable data for planning future action.

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Spell Check

Tom Yucus
Ohio, IL
1/15/2019 03:14 PM

  What ever happened to giving the consumer what the consumer wants, not just what a producer wants to produce, and then try to justify it or " sell "" it to the consumer? As a 40 year farmer and 20 year hunting club operator, I have learned some valuable info, the customer is always right ,( even if I dont think he is ) if I want to have him as a customer! And I need to produce a product that the customer wants, I won't be successful if I am arguing to sell a product that the customer doesn't want anymore. ADAPT AND CHANGE OR be like the horse buggy maker in Dubuque, Iowa, who said " this automobile thing is just a passing fad" and kept making horse buggys and was out of business in a few years!!! Sincerely, tom yucus

Terry W
Powell, WY
1/16/2019 07:39 PM

  I own a business that happens to be a farm. My mission is to produce a product a product my customers want at a price that allows me to make a profit. With today’s prices that doesn't include GMO crops. Educating consumers is very expensive and not my responsibility.

Sanford Stauffer
Nicholville , NY
1/16/2019 06:25 AM

  I think John has a good point here, and maybe we could say the same about all the effort and money we are spending to stem the decline in fluid milk consumption.


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