I was reading yesterday about a Pew study on attitudes towards genetically modified foods. Americans are largely against this technology, with 46% opposing its use compared to 27% in favor. The interesting part was that respondents are not well informed about the fact that they are already eating GMFs. According to the press release, 26% believe they have eaten GMFs and 60% believe they have not. However, according to this Los Angeles Times article about the report, genetically modified foods are widespread in the American diet. "Today, 89% of soybeans, 83% of cotton and 61% of corn" are genetically modified to resist pests or tolerate weedkillers.
Given that people are afraid of this technology, it’s surprising that they are so wrong about how much they are being exposed to it. I would speculate that people think that these foods are harmful, and the fact that they don’t ever hear about anyone being harmed means that they assume that no one is being exposed to them. If GMFs actually were harmful and were in widespread use, people would be aware of problems. It’s interesting that the absence of such reports is apparently taken to indicate low levels of use rather than a reduction in judgments of harmfulness.
This fits into the article I mentioned last week about inaccurate perceptions of risk. Maybe our lives today are so safe that there’s no real harm in misjudging risk. It might be that other factors such as social signaling are more important.