Moving Public Opinion on GMOs

Pacific Standard has a write up on GMOs observing that despite the overwhelming consensus that GMOs are no more dangerous than ordinary foods, a plurality of the public remains convinced that they are a public health threat. According to a linked July poll by Gallup, 48% of those surveyed believed GMOs posed a “serious health hazard”, compared to 36% who didn’t. (If the question were phrased “are GMOs a serious health hazard yes/no?”, would we expect a bias in the affirmative?)

The authors make a nice point about how the GMO critics have successfully framed the debate, and what needs to change for defenders of GMOs to push back:

The question of benefits has been buried because the GMO debate has been framed around the unhelpful distinction between GM and non-GM foods. Instead of asking if GM foods in general are less safe, the editors argue, we should be focused on the specific risks and benefits of individual products, whether they are GM or not.

Talking about GMOs in the aggregate highlights the connection between GMOs and their creators–agricultural firms. And that evokes images of shady corporations mucking about with our food without telling us. But talking about particular crops and how they improve over non-GM crops draws attention to the crop’s impact on consumers.

Defenders of GMOs should emphasize the ways particular crops make people better off, by improving tolerance to drought, disease resistance, and increased nutritional density. While critics of GMOs want to draw attention to the motives behind their creation, defenders should shift attention to the improvements GMOs will bring to the lives of millions of ordinary people.

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