Survey reveals interesting attitudes regarding food issues

NutritionLabel_WomanReading_blogYou don’t have to be a “foodie” to understand America’s obsession over food. We snap and share photos of it, host parties specifically dedicated to it, and some even travel around the world just to try it. But when it comes to what Americans actually think about food, a new survey is showing that many don’t trust scientists’ take on some of the food issues we are faced with.

Published in a 99-page report, the Pew Research Center gathered data on the attitudes toward genetic modification, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully. A recent article discusses some of the key points they found.

1. A lot of Americans don’t care what scientists think about GMOs.

For instance, 39% of the survey participants believe that genetically modified foods are worse for your health than non-GM food. However, there’s essentially no scientific evidence to support that belief — a conclusion confirmed most recently by a National Academy of Sciences report. Among the relatively small group who say they care about the issue of GM foods “a great deal” (16% of the public), three-quarters believe that GMOs are bad for your health.

In addition, the article explains that a majority of Americans believe there’s no scientific consensus on GMOs. Just over 50% of respondents believe that “about half or fewer” of scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat. Only 14% actually match the reality — that “almost all” scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat.

The article also concluded there is deep cynicism about the motives of scientists. According to the survey, Americans feel that research findings are influenced in equal measure by the following factors: the best available scientific evidence; desire to help their industries; and desire to advance their careers. In the view of the public, all of those factors are more important to scientists than concern for the public interest.

Scientists can take heart, though, from one other finding of the survey. People still trust them more than politicians. And, 60% of the public still wants scientists to play a major role in government policies toward GM foods. Remarkably, only 24% of Americans surveyed want their elected officials to have a major role in such policies.

2. Food sympathies don’t follow political sympathies.

Roughly equal shares of Republicans and Democrats (39% versus 40%) feel that GMOs are worse for people’s health. More Democrats than Republicans (60% versus 50%) believe that organic foods are healthier. It’s significant, but not a huge difference, the article explains.

The survey also didn’t find any major differences between men and women, or between rich and poor, when it came to views about GMOs or about the healthy qualities of organic food. The wealthy, however, were more likely actually to buy organic food regularly.

Finally, there’s an overwhelming consensus about one point: 72% of Americans believe that healthy eating habits are very important in improving one’s chances of a long and healthy life, and an additional 25% say that it’s somewhat important. But most (58%) also say they fall short of their goals and that “most days I probably should be eating healthier.”

3. Food issues don’t divide people into neat little camps.

If you look closely at the results, you find that there aren’t clearly defined groups of people who all believe the same things about various food issues. For instance, 18% of Americans say that their “main focus” is eating healthy and nutritious food. And 16% said that they care about genetically modified foods “a great deal.” But these are not the same people. Only a third of the people who care most about eating healthfully also care a lot about GMOs.

And whether a person cares about eating healthful food or not is no predictor of whether he or she considers GMOs to be bad for health. There is a much stronger connection, however, between attitudes about healthy eating and consumption of organic food, the article states. People who describe healthy eating as their “main focus” were almost three times as likely to eat organic food regularly, compared with people who said that healthy eating is not at all important to them.

Finally, based on the survey, support for local and organic food seems to be much more mainstream than the opposition to GMOs. Almost three-quarters of Americans said that they bought local food recently, and just over two-thirds said they had purchased organic food. By comparison, a much smaller group — 44% — reported that they’d recently bought food labeled “GMO-free.”

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