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Confused about your food? You aren't alone.

August 25, 2017
Americans are more confused than ever about food and nutrition, according to a new Michigan State University poll covered in the San Francisco Chronicle.
More than one-third of Americans do not know that foods with no genetically modified ingredients contain genes, according to the new nationally representative Food Literacy and Engagement Poll we recently conducted at Michigan State University. For the record, all foods contain genes, and so do all people.

The majority of respondents who answered this question incorrectly were young and affluent, and also more likely than their peers to describe themselves as having a higher-than-average understanding of the global food system. The full survey revealed that much of the U.S. public remains disengaged or misinformed about food. These findings are problematic because food shapes our lives on a personal level, while consumer choices and agricultural practices set the course for our collective future in a number of ways, from food production impacts to public health.

As author and Michigan State researcher Sheril Kirshenbaum notes, with a growing population, scientists agree that one critical tool in meeting global food demand for a growing population is GM crops. However, consumer fears often get in the way.
Unfortunately, the poll found that much of the public does not embrace the promise of transgenic agriculture. Although genetically modified organisms are currently found in over 75 percent of packaged food in the United States, and we encounter them daily in corn, sugar and soy, most Americans remain unaware of their potential. Forty-six percent of poll respondents either don’t know whether they consume GMOs or believe they rarely or never do.

While the Food and Drug Administration has said that genetically modified foods are safe, large and vocal advocacy groups continue to stoke public fears and influence consumer choices away from their adoption. The result is widespread misinformation and mistrust, which ultimately sets back progress toward allowing the technology to meet its full potential domestically and internationally.

When it comes to food, many Americans do not trust experts. Just 59 percent of respondents in our survey said that they trusted information from academic scientists on nutrition and food safety. Less than half (49 percent) trusted government scientists, and only one-third (33 percent) trusted industry scientists.

Instead, consumers wade through conflicting recommendations from friends, relatives and celebrities that compete with fake news online for attention. Meanwhile, advertisements and talking heads argue over the health benefits of staples like chocolate and coffee. This may explain why a 2016 Morning Consult/New York Times survey found that nutritionists and Americans have vastly different ideas about what kinds of foods can be called “healthy.”

Consumers face the exhausting task of sifting through the noise for reliable and accurate information on food. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to find objective experts to listen to their concerns and provide answers that are grounded in science and easy to understand and put into practice.

Thankfully, a number of online sources are available to help consumers find real, science-based information about their food. If you're looking for credible information on GMOs, look no further than GMOAnswers, which utilizes independent experts to answer thousands of questions about GMOs. Or, try Food Insight, which provides science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety.

Or, consider this list of web resources from the "Farm Babe," a farmer and agricultural advocate. With so many opinions flying around the internet, and consumers confused about where to look for scientific information, this list of science-based websites provides clarity about science and agriculture to consumers.