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Nearly half of consumers avoid GMO foods, survey says

A new survey reinforces what most people in agriculture already know: Many Americans have serious concerns about GMO foods, with nearly half of U.S. consumers avoiding them, even though many of the concerned consumers know little or nothing about genetically modified food.

The survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation finds that 47 percent of consumers "avoid GMO food at least somewhat." Nineteen percent said they avoid GMO food "completely," and 28 percent said they avoid it "somewhat."

Of the consumers who avoid GMO foods, 95 percent do so out of human health concerns, with 43 percent saying they're concerned about the environment, 36 percent citing concerns about animal health and 34 percent saying they have agriculture/farming concerns.

"Despite broad scientific consensus that GMOs are safe to consume, a majority of Americans seem to be convinced otherwise. It's a significant disconnect and it underscores the need for more creative public education on the science behind our food," Joseph Clayton, CEO of the IFIC Foundation, said in a written statement.

The survey also found that 36 percent of respondents say "they know little or nothing at all about bioengineered or genetically modified foods."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines GMO as "an organism produced through genetic modification." It defines genetic modification as "the production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods. Some countries other than the United States use this term to refer specifically to genetic engineering."

Although critics question the safety of GMO foods, the World Health Organization says that "no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved "

GMO-free claims aren't the most important thing consumers look for when searching for food, however, the new survey says:

• "All Natural, 100 percent Natural or Natural" appeal to 71 percent when buying for themselves, 72 percent buying for their families.

• "Raised without Antibiotics" appeals to 71 percent when buying for themselves, 72 percent buying for their families.

• "Sustainable" appeals to 62 percent when buying for themselves, 63 percent buying for their families.

• "Locally sourced" appeals to 61 percent when buying for themselves, 63 percent buying for their families.

• "USDA Certified Organic" appeals to 60 percent, both when buying for themselves and their families.

• "Not Made with Genetically Modified Ingredients" appeals to 59 percent when buying for themselves, 64 percent buying for their families.

The survey was conducted in conjunction with the July 3 deadline for public comments on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposal to disclose "bioengineered" on labels. Such labels "drastically increase a wide variety of consumer concerns, especially regarding human health," according to the IFIC Foundation, which describes itself as "supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries."

The organization's formal public comments on the labeling proposal can be read here.

The full survey — conducted online with 1,002 Americans, ages 18 to 80 with sole or shared responsibility for their household's grocery shopping — can be read here.

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