Avoiding GMO food might be tougher than you think


WHILE there’s currently no evidence that genetically modified organisms harm human health, that isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate reasons to avoid them. Perhaps the most common is a simple preference for that which is natural and a general aversion to that which technology—especially technology developed by Big Ag—has meddled in. Others worry about long-term effects that haven’t appeared in scientific studies yet, or ecosystem-level impacts that we haven’t picked up on. A comprehensive 2016 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine found no evidence that would support those concerns, but it also noted that caution is generally a good idea.
GM experts and proponents also have legitimate concerns that adding a label identifying GMOs gives the impression that there are scientifically proven risks to worry about. Studies on perception of GM food suggests that the public has a baseline aversion, and a label may increase wariness. Labeling advocates, of course, argue that if Americans want to avoid GMOs, they have a right to do so.
But really, a lot of the research on public opinion of GM food suggests that Americans don’t so much think negatively of it as that they don’t think much about it at all. Yes, there’s a baseline aversion, but the opinion of study subjects seems to vary wildly depending on the information provided. One study following up on that 2016 report found that the entire American public shifted their opinion measurably in the positive, likely because the report was well-publicized in its findings that GMOs are, as far as we can tell, perfectly safe for the human body.
So, it’s unclear how many Americans will actually be looking to avoid GM food in the future. But even if you want to keep your pantry GMO-free, doing so could prove challenging.
“Can people avoid them? The answer is certainly yes. Especially in the last few years there have been more products on the market that are non-GMO or organic,” says Jayson Lusk, an economist at Purdue University who studies the consumer side of GMOs. “Now, those products are more expensive—no one ever said you can avoid them for free. But they can if they’re willing and able to pay, and one way they’ll pay is in the time to find the products.” Though very few fruits and vegetables are genetically engineered, he points out that almost anything with corn or soybeans will be difficult to get without a GM component.

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