Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can provide real solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. For example, with GMOs, we can:
- Increase productivity in agriculture, helping feed the world and combat food crises;
- Improve nutritional quality of crops and increase vitamin content;
- Conserve water; Improve air quality; Enhance soil quality;
- Reduce the use of pesticides and other chemical inputs; and much more.
But unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths and misinformation surrounding GMOs even though they have been on the market for over 20 years.
According to a recent study in Nature Human Behaviour, extreme opponents of GMOs know the least about GMOs but think they know the most.
The New York Times reported on the study’s results:
Researchers surveyed 501 randomly selected adults, testing their knowledge of G.M.O.s with a series of true/false questions — for example, the cloning of living things produces genetically identical copies (true), or it is not possible to transfer animal genes into plants (false).
The study, in Nature Human Behaviour, also tested how strongly the participants opposed G.M.O.s by measuring on a seven-point scale the desire to regulate them, the willingness to eat them, and the inclination to actively oppose them by participating in protests or donating to anti-G.M.O. organizations.
The researchers then had the participants rate their own knowledge of G.M.O.s, on a scale from very little understanding to detailed and deep knowledge.
As the degree of opposition to the foods increased, knowledge about them decreased. The scientists also found that people who knew the least tended to think they knew the most.
“This shows that extreme beliefs stem from overestimation of knowledge,” said the lead author, Philip M. Fernbach, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Colorado. “We have to somehow get people to appreciate that they don’t understand things as well as they think they do.”
Late night show host Jimmy Kimmel hit the streets in 2014 to highlight how strong opinions on GMOs did not necessarily translate to knowledge about GMOs.
If you take a deeper dive into research and data, you’ll see that scientists agree that GMOs are safe to eat. The American Association for the Advancement of Science said in 2013, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.”
GMOs have not caused or contributed to a single illness or death. Thousands of studies have researched GMOs, and in 2016, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) determined there is “no substantial evidence of a difference in risks to human health between current commercially available genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.”
The U.S. Drug and Food Administration, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have also deemed GMOs safe to eat.
In addition, industry experts continually test GMO crops for consumer safety. Within the U.S., these tests have been conducted repeatedly and extensively by the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and independent organizations. Similar tests are also held internationally by other countries.
If we want science to succeed and benefit society, it’s important we recognize the damage myths and misinformation can have. Just recently, the two winners of the 2018 Nobel prize for Chemistry – American chemical engineer Frances Arnold and British biochemist Sir Gregory Winter – expressed concern that misguided fears about genetically modified (GM) foods could hinder the many societal benefits the technology offers and curtail important scientific developments.
“We’ve been modifying the biological world at the level of DNA for thousands of years,” Arnold said at a news conference, citing examples such as new dog breeds. “Somehow there is this new fear of what we already have been doing and that fear has limited our ability to provide real solutions.”
Arnold argued that genetically modified crops could make food production more environmentally sustainable and help feed the world’s growing population. Genetic modifications can make crops drought and disease resistant.
Winter said that current regulations on GM needed to be “loosened up”.
Visit GMO Answers to learn more about GMOs.