Placeholder Banner

Survey Shows Americans Support Labeling Foods Containing DNA

January 22, 2015
recent survey by the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics finds that over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,” about the same number as support mandatory labeling of GMO foods “produced with genetic engineering.” Washington Post reported on the survey:  

If the government does impose mandatory labeling on foods containing DNA, perhaps the label might look something like this:

WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.

Oklahoma State economist Jayson Lusk has some additional details on the survey

When reviewing the survey, the reader should note that all food contains DNA (except for the things so highly processed that the DNA has been removed or destroyed). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers DNA to be “generally regarded as safe.”  Organisms have been eating other organisms containing DNA for several billion years; you even ingest your own DNA every time you swallow.

The point of this survey is that there is so much to know about so many things, that we can’t reasonably be expected to know everything, and are constantly put in situations where we have to decide things without knowing everything. So the every day person who is not familiar with the issue may take short cuts which can have consequences. The Washington Post lays out a similar point in its article:
"Polls repeatedly show that much of the public is often ignorant of both basic scientific facts, and basic facts about government and public policy...A 2012 National Science Foundation survey even found that about 25% of Americans don’t know that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice versa. Issues like food labeling bring together political and scientific knowledge, and it is not surprising that public opinion on these subjects is very poorly informed.

"Political ignorance is not primarily the result of stupidity. For most people, it is a rational reaction to the enormous size and complexity of government and the reality that the chance that their vote will have an impact on electoral outcomes is extremely low.

"The same is true of much scientific ignorance. For many people, there is little benefit to understanding much about genetics or DNA. Most Americans can even go about their daily business perfectly well without knowing that the Earth revolves around the sun. Even the smartest people are inevitably ignorant of the vast majority of information out there. We all have to focus our time and energy on learning that information which is most likely to be instrumentally useful, or at least provide entertainment value. For large numbers of people, much basic political and scientific information doesn’t make the cut."

"Unfortunately, this is a case where individually rational behavior leads to potentially dangerous collective outcomes."

BIO encourages you to read this Washington Post article in its entirety.