ITHACA, N.Y. – More than two-thirds of the food in U.S. markets has at least some amount of a crop that has been genetically engineered. Do Americans believe that genetically engineered food is a health risk or benefit?
They are pretty evenly split on the issue, found a new Cornell University study. However, they have grown slightly more skeptical over the past three years.
“Our study, which consisted of seven data sets, finds continuing ambivalence about genetically engineered foods, even despite their successful use in agricultural production,” said James Shanahan, associate professor of communication at Cornell and lead researcher of the study.
“Overall, research shows that genetically engineered foods are safe and effective, though some people still harbor reservations,” said Shanahan.
Apprehensive. White women and nonwhites of both genders perceived higher risk in using biotechnology in food production than white men and whites of both genders. And, Republicans showed more overall support for genetically engineered foods than others, he said.
The study included four, annual, national surveys from 2003 to 2005 with samples of about 750 respondents each year, and three, annual surveys of New Yorkers from 2003 to 2005 with about 850 respondents each year.
The national survey measured support for genetically engineered food using a scale from 1 to 10, while the New York survey used a similar scale to measure the perceived health risks of genetically engineered food.
Consistent. “The results of the state and national surveys were very consistent with each other,” said Shanahan. “And both showed a slight, but significant shift over time toward a little less support and more risk perception.”
Specifically, the mean response for support for biotechnology was 5.6 (on a 1-10 scale) in the first year of the surveys, indicating that people were evenly divided in supporting, opposing or being undecided; by 2005, the mean declined slightly to 5.2.
Similarly, the mean response for risk perception increased to 6.1 in 2005, from 5.4 in the first year.
News influence. The researchers also found that people who pay more attention to the news tend to support genetically engineered food more than those who don’t.
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