PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. -- Nearly everyone is aware of genetically modified foods, but few Americans are concerned -- and even fewer are knowledgeable -- about them, according to a survey conducted by The NPD Group here.
lic awareness and concern were even lower when the subject was genetically modified corn.)
Slightly more than a quarter (26%) could answer a simple question about GMFs correctly.
These figures come from NPD's bi-weekly survey of U.S. consumer awareness and concern about food-safety issues, in which the organization samples the opinions of a representative group of at least 500 adults.
Harry Balzer, NPD's vice president, told SN, "The public's awareness level is high, but its level of understanding varies all over the place."
Media coverage, Balzer explained, is what shapes public awareness. He observed that the public is very aware -- 98% of respondents said they are at least a little aware -- of E. coli, largely because of what they have read in newspapers or seen on television.
"What really drives awareness is the media coverage of the issue," he said. "Most people have not personally seen E. coli, but they hear about it."
Balzer noted that concern is only measured among those who said they are aware of an issue. He said this was particularly important in considering the level of awareness and concern about genetically modified corn.
The survey found that only 49% of respondents said they had heard or read anything at all about the modified corn. Out of that group, only 47% said they were at least slightly concerned that it might pose a health hazard in the food they might eat in the next month.
Which means, Balzer pointed out, that only about a quarter of the overall respondents are in any way concerned about the altered corn.
"There's no personal exposure," he said. "There's nothing that happened to them to say this is an issue they should be concerned about."
In contrast, he noted, 72% of survey respondents are concerned about E. coli.
The lack of concern may also be what lies behind a widespread lack of knowledge about GMFs, even a widespread lack of knowledge about reassuring facts.
To test respondents' understanding of the issue, the survey asked: "True or false, there have been no cases of human illness due to eating foods with genetically modified corn?"
Just more than a quarter (26%) said the statement is true, which is the correct answer.
About half that number (13%) said erroneously the statement is false.
However, the large majority (61%) said they simply did not know. Balzer noted that this was perhaps the survey's most startling revelation about GMFs.
"The issue here is that most people simply don't know," he said.
Behind this ignorance, Balzer commented, lies a resistance to change.
"If you tell me something is wrong with my food," he said, "you are in effect trying to change my behavior, and I'm going to look for ways to get back to doing what I used to do. It's been my experience that even when we've had outbreaks, people have not given up the food that caused the outbreaks.
"I think that's very true with genetically modified foods.
"There are a lot of foods that are genetically altered, and if you avoided them, I don't think you'd eat."
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
Overall, how much have you heard or read about Genetically Modified Foods?
A Great Deal 6%
Quite A Bit 16%
A Moderate Amount 25%
A Little 35%
How concerned are you that Genetically Modified Foods might pose a health hazard in the food that you might eat in the next month?
Extremely Concerned 3%
Very Concerned 6%
Somewhat Concerned 14%
Slightly Concerned 25%
Not At All Concerned 51%
True or false: There have been no cases of human illness due to eating foods made with Genetically Modified Corn. (The correct answer is True.)