Anti-GMO groups claim that Europeans are overwhelmingly opposed to GM food and crops. But often they base these claims on incorrect readings of public opinion polls. What do surveys actually say about the current state of public opinion? Some polling results and questions are misleading. For example, some polls asked people to rank their levels of concern and asked them to agree or disagree with statements like “GM food is unnatural”, “makes you feel uneasy” or “GM food is not good for you.”
Questions that ask people to quantify “how worried they are” obviously record high levels of concern. Reliable public opinion pollsters don’t use such methods; instead, they ask people to rank their concerns instead of prompting them with suggestions of what those concerns might be. Eurobarometer did this in 2010, asking 16,000 Europeans: “… in your own words, what are all the things that come to your mind when thinking about possible problems or risks associated with food and eating? Just say out loud whatever comes to mind and I will write it down.”
Although there is concern about GM and biotechnology, consumers report a low level of knowledge about GM food. When a consumer has no direct experience or verifiable evidence to support concerns, he or she takes a much more cautious approach. In one recent survey, 34% of Europeans found a clear deficit of information on GMOs; as a result, many have yet to form their final opinion on the subject.
The EU Research Project CONSUMERCHOICE
looked at the actual purchasing behaviour of consumers when given the opportunity to choose between GM and non-GM foods. The project found that responses given by consumers when prompted by questionnaires about GM-food are not a reliable guide to what they do when shopping in grocery stores. Furthermore, the study concluded that Europeans do buy GM-foods when they are physically present and labelled on the shelves. Still, even now a large percentage of people recognise that there are benefits. According to another Eurobarometer, 77% of Europeans said that they agreed that the European Union should encourage its farmers to take advantage of biotechnology in agriculture.