Even when provided with scientific information about genetically modified organisms or global warming, some consumers may hold fast to the beliefs they've always had about the two topics, researchers from the University of Florida and Oklahoma State University have found.
In the study, published in the journal Food Policy, researchers also found that 12% of respondents, after reading scientific information stating that GMOs are safe, said they actually felt GMOs were less safe, says Brandon McFadden, an assistant professor in food and resource economics in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
"This is critical and hopefully demonstrates that as a society we should be more flexible in our beliefs before collecting information from multiple sources," McFadden said. "Also, this indicates that scientific findings about a societal risk likely have diminishing value over time."
McFadden and his group surveyed 961 people across the U.S. via the internet in April, 2013, about their beliefs regarding both global warming and GMOs.
To develop a baseline, participants were asked to respond to statements such as: "Genetically modified crops are safe to eat." To gauge their beliefs about humans and global warming, they responded to statements such as: "The Earth is getting warmer because of human actions."
Then they were given scientific information about genetically modified foods and global warming.
For example, researchers showed participants this quote from the National Research Council regarding genetically modified food: "To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population."
Respondents read several quotes about global warming, including this one from the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "The scientific evidence is clear: Global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society."
After reading statements from scientific groups, participants were asked about their beliefs regarding the safety of genetically modified foods. The choices ranged from "much less safe" to "much more safe."
The results showed that before they received the information, 32% believed GM foods were safe to eat; 32% were not sure and 36% did not believe GM foods were safe to eat.
After they received scientific information, about 45% believed genetically modified foods were safer to eat and 43% were not swayed by the information.
Then they were asked to assess the extent to which they believe human involvement caused global warming. They were given choices ranging from "much less involved" to "much more involved."
The study showed that before they received the information, 64% believed human actions are causing global warming; 18% were not sure and 18% did not believe human actions are to blame.
After receiving scientific information about global warming, about 50% of participants believed even more strongly that human actions lead to global warming, while 44% were not swayed by the information, the study showed.
"Possibly, the best indicator for whether a person will adopt scientific information is simply what a person believes before receiving the information," McFadden said.
Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
The first paragraph of this article previously listed Florida State University, not UF, as one of the researchers' organizations; the error has been corrected.
Interested in the GMO discussion? Farm Progress Editor Holly Spangler explores GMO foods, GMO labeling and the general genetically modified food debate in an exclusive series. Follow along using the links below: