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Public Perceptions Of Genetically Modified Foods: A National Study Of American Knowledge And Opinion


  • Hallman, William K.
  • Hebden, W. Carl
  • Aquino, Helen L.
  • Cuite, Cara L.
  • Lang, John T.


This report presents the results from the second phase of a longitudinal study of Americans' knowledge and feelings about agricultural biotechnology and how those perceptions and attitudes have changed over time. Two independent national probability samples of 1,200 adults were interviewed by phone in the spring of 2001 and 2003. While this report focuses on the findings from 2003, longitudinal comparisons are presented where appropriate. The report begins with an investigation of Americans' awareness of the presence of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the foods they encounter everyday. Next, the report describes Americans' actual and perceived knowledge of science, biotechnology and food production. It then examines American opinions about GM foods in general, along with their opinions on a variety of existing and potential GM food products with direct or indirect consumer benefits. The report discusses the relationship between opinions of GM food and a variety of factors, including demographics, knowledge of biotechnology, purchasing behaviors and styles of food selection. Finally, it describes Americans' thoughts on GM food labeling. Highlights of the findings are below. Americans pay little attention to agricultural biotechnology. - Only half of Americans are aware that foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients are currently sold in stores. - Despite the prevalence of such foods, only one-quarter of Americans believe they have eaten them. - Little more than a third of Americans have ever discussed biotechnology. - Awareness, although still low, has increased slightly from 2001. Americans do not have much knowledge about agricultural biotechnology. - Self-reported knowledge of biotechnology is low. - Quizzes on biotechnology and food production reveal that Americans are generally uninformed about both, and this has not changed since 2001. Opinion on the acceptability of GM foods is split. - When asked directly, about half of Americans report that they approve of plant-based GM foods, (down from 2001) and about a quarter approve of animal-based GM foods (unchanged from 2001). - Approximately 10% of Americans report being unsure of their opinion of GM foods. Opinions of GM food are easily influenced. - Approval increases when specific benefits of GM food are mentioned. - Reactions to the technology depends on what it is called. The term biotechnology evokes the most positive responses, while genetic modification is perceived most negatively and genetic engineering is most often associated with cloning. Demographics and styles of choosing food are related to acceptance of GM foods. - Women, people over 64, and people with low levels of education are less likely to approve of GM foods. - People who value naturalness and healthfulness in their foods are slightly less likely to approve of GM foods. - People who have purchased organic foods in the past are less likely to approve of GM foods.

Suggested Citation

  • Hallman, William K. & Hebden, W. Carl & Aquino, Helen L. & Cuite, Cara L. & Lang, John T., 2003. "Public Perceptions Of Genetically Modified Foods: A National Study Of American Knowledge And Opinion," Research Reports 18174, Rutgers University, Food Policy Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:ags:rutfwp:18174
    DOI: 10.22004/ag.econ.18174

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    Cited by:

    1. Douglas J. Sylvester & Kenneth W. Abbott & Gary E. Marchant, 2009. "Not again! Public perception, regulation, and nanotechnology," Regulation & Governance, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 3(2), pages 165-185, June.
    2. Bellows Anne C. & Onyango Benjamin & Diamond Adam & Hallman William K, 2008. "Understanding Consumer Interest in Organics: Production Values vs. Purchasing Behavior," Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization, De Gruyter, vol. 6(1), pages 1-31, May.
    3. Jae-Hwan Han & R. Wes Harrison, 2007. "Factors Influencing Urban Consumers' Acceptance of Genetically Modified Foods," Review of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 29(4), pages 700-719.
    4. Liaukonyte, Jura & Streletskaya, Nadia A. & Kaiser, Harry M., 2015. "Noisy Information Signals and Endogenous Preferences for Labeled Attributes," Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Western Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 40(2), pages 1-24, May.
    5. Zhou, Li & Turvey, Calum G. & Hu, Wuyang & Ying, Ruiyao, 2016. "Fear and trust: How risk perceptions of avian influenza affect Chinese consumers’ demand for chicken," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 91-104.
    6. Zhang, Xiaoyong & Huang, Jikun & Qiu, Huanguang & Huang, Zhurong, 2010. "A consumer segmentation study with regards to genetically modified food in urban China," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(5), pages 456-462, October.
    7. Onyango, Benjamin M. & Nayga, Rodolfo M., Jr. & Govindasamy, Ramu, 2006. "U.S. Consumers' Willingness to Pay for Food Labeled 'Genetically Modified'," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association, vol. 35(2), pages 1-12, October.
    8. Huanguang Qiu & Jikun Huang & Carl Pray & Scott Rozelle, 2012. "Consumers’ trust in government and their attitudes towards genetically modified food: empirical evidence from China," Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 10(1), pages 67-87, July.
    9. Turvey, Calum G. & Mojduszka, Eliza M., 2005. "The Precautionary Principle and the law of unintended consequences," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 145-161, April.
    10. Bai, Junfei & Zhang, Caiping & Huang, Jikun & Hallman, William K. & Pray, Carl E. & Aquino, Helen L., 2004. "Consumer Acceptance Of Genetically Modificed Foods: A Comparison Between The Us And China," 2004 Annual meeting, August 1-4, Denver, CO 20026, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    11. Weisenfeld, Ursula & Hauerwaas, Antoniya & Elshiewy, Ossama & Halder, Pradipta & Wesseler, Justus & Cingiz, Kutay & Broer, Inge, 2023. "Beyond plastic – Consumers prefer food packaging derived from genetically modified plants," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 52(10).
    12. Chen, Xuqi & Gao, Zhifeng & Swisher, Marilyn & House, Lisa & Zhao, Xin, 2018. "Eco-labeling in the Fresh Produce Market: Not All Environmentally Friendly Labels Are Equally Valued," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 154(C), pages 201-210.
    13. Ekanem, Enefiok P. & Muhammad, Safdar & Tegegne, Fisseha & Singh, Surendra P., 2004. "Consumer Biotechnology Food And Nutrition Information Sources: The Trust Factor," Journal of Food Distribution Research, Food Distribution Research Society, vol. 35(1), pages 1-7, March.
    14. Zhou, Li & Turvey, Calum & Hu, Wuyang & Ying, Ruiyao, 2015. "Fear and Trust: How Risk Perceptions of Avian Influenza Affect the Demand for Chicken," 2015 AAEA & WAEA Joint Annual Meeting, July 26-28, San Francisco, California 202077, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    15. Pluske, Johanna M. & Burton, Michael P. & Rigby, Dan & Vercoe, Philip E., 2009. "Cattle breeding in Northern Australia: Revealing how consumers react to new technologies," 2009 Conference (53rd), February 11-13, 2009, Cairns, Australia 48167, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.
    16. Monaghan, Conal & Bizumic, Boris & Van Rooy, Dirk, 2020. "An analysis of public attitudes in Australia towards applications of biotechnology to humans: Kinds, causes, and effects," Technology in Society, Elsevier, vol. 63(C).
    17. Bernard, John C. & Zhang, Chao & Gifford, Katie, 2006. "An Experimental Investigation of Consumer Willingness to Pay for Non-GM Foods When an Organic Option Is Present," Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association, vol. 35(2), pages 1-12, October.
    18. Spencer Henson & Mamane Annou & John Cranfield & Joanne Ryks, 2008. "Understanding Consumer Attitudes Toward Food Technologies in Canada," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 28(6), pages 1601-1617, December.
    19. John T. Lang & William K. Hallman, 2005. "Who Does the Public Trust? The Case of Genetically Modified Food in the United States," Risk Analysis, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 25(5), pages 1241-1252, October.
    20. Brad Love & Michael Mackert & Kami Silk, 2013. "Consumer Trust in Information Sources," SAGE Open, , vol. 3(2), pages 21582440134, June.
    21. Dilshani Sarathchandra & Aaron M. McCright, 2017. "The Effects of Media Coverage of Scientific Retractions on Risk Perceptions," SAGE Open, , vol. 7(2), pages 21582440177, May.

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