Attitudes to Genetically Modified Food - Complete Survey Data

As society’s needs grow ever more complex, food production methods in the UK and overseas have inevitably become more sophisticated, with new technologies constantly being harnessed to deliver ingredients to homes and businesses as efficiently as possible.

However, any technological revolution is inevitably accompanied by exacting public scrutiny - and the advent of genetic modification of good products has proven to be particularly divisive. Although many people recognise the benefits that genetically-modified (GM) crops and food supplies can offer in terms of production efficiency, a significant percentage of consumers retain strong concerns about the potential risks such products might pose.

As a leading supplier of connectors and components for the food and beverages industry, Northern Connectors sought to investigate public attitudes to GM foods in greater depth, carrying out a survey of 1,139 individuals from across the country. The eye-opening results highlighted deep divisions over the safety, impact and labelling of GM foods - as well as a widespread desire for more transparent information to help guide consumer choice.

The full findings of our survey are included below for anyone to use as they see fit, with proper attribution and credit to northern-connectors.co.uk.

Key trends and findings

Most people believe they have a good understanding of what goes into their food

  • Of those surveyed, 59% said they are “quite aware” of the ingredients used in their food, while 21% said they were “very aware”
  • The majority of people check nutritional information provided by the food products they buy, with 11% doing so every time they buy a product and 25% doing so very often. A further 28% say they do this quite often, and 23% do so occasionally
  • Most people say they are aware of how often they consume GM ingredients, with only 31% saying they don’t know how often this happens
  • 10% saying they often eat GM foods and 34% saying they do so sometimes; conversely, 18% say they rarely consume these products and 7% never do

Attitudes to GM foods are more negative than positive - but many are unsure

  • 52% of those polled would be less likely to consume food if they found out it was genetically modified, while only 2% said they would be more likely to do so. However, a further 31% said it wouldn’t affect their decision either way, and 15% said this would depend on how it had been modified
  • 44% of respondents characterised their perceptions of GM foods as “negative” or “extremely negative”, compared to only 12% whose views were “positive” or “extremely positive”. However, another 44% said their views were neutral
  • 27% said GM foods are more likely to cause serious illnesses, such as cancer, rather than prevent them, whereas only 4% thought the opposite was true. 46% said they didn’t know, while 23% did not believe GM foods would have an effect either way
  • Similarly, 30% disagreed to some extent with the idea that GM foods could deliver considerable health benefits, with only 15% agreeing. The remaining 55% were simply unsure

Better education on GM foods may be required

  • When given an option to comment freely on GM foods, respondents to the survey expressed concerns that these products may have been harmfully “tampered with”, or may in some other way be “unnatural” compared to organic produce:
    • “The more it is messed with, the less nutritional value it retains.”
    • “I'd prefer natural foods that were not interfered with.”
    • “You never know what it's been modified with, or how. Us allergy sufferers need to know the exact source of products/items/cells that are in our food to stop allergic reactions.”
    • “You never hear anything good about it.”
    • “Not safe; not sure what illnesses or diseases it might cause.”
  • Common concerns included the idea that GM foods could have unknown repercussions on public health or the environment, although many accepted that GM products are becoming the norm due to their potential to deliver better crop yields and longer-lasting foods:
    • “Virtually all food will probably be genetically modified in the future; you can't escape it at all!”
    • “It's necessary for poorer countries.”
    • “It is not good for biodiversity. It is a bad thing for a sustainable environment, and destroying traditional crops.”
    • “I don't think there is an issue - it's producing the best strains of food.”
    • “GM food has improved nutrition, preserves better and yields more; it also is more resistant to spoiling and disease.”
  • A common sentiment is that many people feel there is not enough information available to the public to make an informed decision, leading many to assume the worst about GM foods and motives behind its development; many also suggested that better education might shift their perspective:
    • “The practices of corporate involvement are a grave cause for concern, as is the lack of oversight. The public did not ask for this to happen.”
    • I am disgusted with the corporatisation of food produce.”
    • “I am in favour of eating GMO foods, as long as the reasons are ethical and not just for profits.”
    • “If it used tried-and-tested mechanisms, it would be fine.”
    • “I would want to know why and how it had been modified.”
  • The perils of misinformation on the topic of GM foods was underlined by the fact that nearly 50% of those polled wrongly believe that at least one of four famous public health scares - the 1990s mad cow outbreak, 2000s foot and mouth epidemic, 2005 E. coli outbreak or the 2013 horse meat scandal - were linked to GM foods, with 24% thinking all of them had something to do with GM products

Strong interest in better labelling of GM products

  • 78% of those surveyed agreed to some extent that GM foods should be more clearly labelled, with 36% saying they “strongly agree”
  • 80% believe it would be beneficial to consumer decision-making processes to create a badge for GM foods, similar to the "V" symbol used to mark vegetarian options
  • 63% say food manufacturers and producers should be responsible for making it clear to consumers that foods are modified, while 21% say this should be the duty of the government or regulatory bodies
  • A clear majority of consumers would be in favour of clearer labelling of GM foods, regardless of whether their overall views on these products are positive or negative, suggesting there would be widespread support for this measure

The complete survey findings

1. How would you describe your diet?

 

%

Number of people

Meat eater - no restrictions

76.33%

835

Meat eater - Halal diet

1.83%

20

Meat eater - Kosher diet

1.28%

14

Meat eater - Buddhist diet

0.55%

6

Vegetarian

9.96%

109

Pescetarian

3.66%

40

Vegan

3.84%

42

Gluten-free

1.55%

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. On average, how many portions of fruit and vegetables do you eat every day?

 

 

%

Number of people

0

1.82%

20

1

8.32%

91

2

16.00%

175

3

21.85%

239

4

17.00%

186

5

15.00%

164

6

10.97%

120

7

4.02%

44

8

2.74%

30

9

0.64%

7

10

0.27%

3

11+

1.37%

15

3. To what extent are you aware of the ingredients in your food?

 

%

Number of people

Very aware

21.19%

231

Quite aware

59.36%

647

I don't know

7.43%

81

Not very aware

11.10%

121

Not at all aware

0.92%

10

4. How often do you check the ingredients or nutritional information before you buy a food product?

 

 

%

Number of people

Every time I purchase a food product

11.38%

124

Very often

25.41%

277

Quite often

28.07%

306

Occasionally

23.30%

254

Rarely

9.08%

99

Never

2.75%

30

5. How confident are you that you understand the reasons for manufacturers genetically modifying foods?

 

%

Number of people

Extremely confident

7.41%

80

Quite confident

40.04%

432

I don't know

27.53%

297

Not very confident

20.30%

219

Not at all confident

4.73%

51

6. Which of the following public health scares were linked to genetically modified foods?

 

%

Number of people

Mad cow disease - 1990s

12.79%

138

E.coli outbreak - 2005

4.73%

51

Horse meat scandal - 2013

6.30%

68

Foot and mouth disease - 2000s

2.13%

23

All of the above

23.63%

255

None of the above

50.42%

544

7. How often (if ever) do you believe you eat food that has been genetically modified?

 

 

%

Number of people

I often eat genetically modified foods

10.41%

111

I sometimes eat genetically modified foods

33.68%

359

I rarely eat genetically modified foods

18.39%

196

I never eat genetically modified foods

6.94%

74

I don't know

30.58%

326

8. Would you be more or less likely to consume a food if you found out it had been genetically modified?

 

%

Number of people

More likely

2.16%

23

Less likely

51.78%

552

It wouldn't affect my decision

31.24%

333

It would depend on how it was modified

14.82%

158

9. How would you describe your perception of genetically modified foods?

 

%

Number of people

Extremely positive

2.31%

24

Positive

10.00%

104

Neither positive or negative

44.23%

460

Negative

33.27%

346

Extremely negative

10.19%

106

10. Do you think GM foods are more likely to cause or prevent serious illnesses like cancer?

 

%

Number of people

Cause

26.44%

275

Prevent

4.42%

46

Have no effect

23.27%

242

I don't know

45.87%

477

11. To what extent do you agree with the following statement:

"Eating some genetically-modified foods can have considerable health benefits."

 

 

%

Number of people

I strongly agree

2.98%

31

I agree

12.12%

126

I neither agree or disagree

55.00%

572

I disagree

22.50%

234

I strongly disagree

7.40%

77

12. To what extent do you agree with the following statement:

"My views on genetically-modified foods have not changed in the past five years."

 

%

Number of people

I strongly agree

11.83%

123

I agree

38.65%

402

I neither agree nor disagree

38.46%

400

I disagree

9.13%

95

I strongly disagree

1.92%

20

13. To what extent do you agree with the following statement:

"Foods containing genetically-modified ingredients should be more clearly labelled."

 

%

Number of people

I strongly agree

35.82%

370

I agree

41.82%

432

I neither agree or disagree

18.59%

192

I disagree

3.19%

33

I strongly disagree

0.58%

6

14. Who do you think is responsible for making it clear to consumers which foods are genetically modified, or for making sure they are labelled correctly?

 

%

Number of people

Food manufacturers and producers

62.54%

646

Supermarkets and other vendors

8.62%

89

The government and regulatory bodies

21.10%

218

I don't know

6.29%

65

Other

1.45%

15

15. Do you think it would be beneficial to consumer decision-making processes to create a badge for genetically modified foods? Eg. the "V" symbol used to mark vegetarian options

 

 

%

Number of people

Yes

80.06%

827

No

8.52%

88

I don't know

11.42%

118