People who are most opposed to genetically modified foods think they know a lot about food science, but they actually know the least, according to a publication published in January in the journal Nature Human Behavior,
GMOs are considered safe by scientists, but opponents claim they want more knowledge about potential harm so that subjective arguments are not part of the equation. Previous research, however, suggests that providing more scientific facts about GMOs to humans does not change their minds.
The study, conducted by four universities, asked 2000 people in Europe and the United States how much they knew about genetically modified foods, what their opinion was and how intense it was.
He then set a series of real or false questions about science ranging from basic questions such as: Whether the Earth's core is hot or cold to genetics issues like "Are Genetically Modified Tomato Genes?"
The results showed that the stronger the people say they oppose GMOs, the lower their rating.
"Many people are upset by genetically modified foods," said Sidney Scott, a marketing professor at St. Louis University, Washington, one of the schools in charge of the study.
"We have to make people recognize the gaps in their knowledge before trying to teach them new things and make a meaningful discussion," she added.
Opponents of genetically modified foods do not put much stock in the study.
"The real inadequate science is that the Food and Drug Administration is not conducting rigorous testing of genetically modified foods," said Alexis Baden-Meyer, political director of the Association of Organic Consumers of GMO.
She said her organization wants to see an "in-depth scientific review of genetically modified foods using modern testing practices."
Scott said Baden-Meyer has made sense and confirmed that the study is related to the relationship between scientific knowledge and consumer behavior, not just GMO science. But, she said, consumers are often less inclined to learn the facts when this is something they feel very passionate about, "especially if they feel like they are challenging their moral values."
"So people can feel exclusively about genetically modified foods because it is very unnatural in a way that is almost morally upset," Scott said.
Researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania also participated in the study, which was mainly paid by grants from the National Science Foundation.
They plan to continue with more research on how the results can play in other controversial scientific issues, including vaccinations, nuclear power and homeopathic medicine.