WASHINGTON — The US Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture launched a $7.5 million consumer education initiative focused on highlighting the science behind genetically modified organisms.
The goal of the effort, called Feed Your Mind, is to answer the most common questions consumers have about GMOs, including how they are regulated and whether they are safe and healthy.
Less than a dozen genetically modified crops are grown in the United States, but they often make up an overwhelming majority of the crop grown. More than 90% of soybeans, corn and sugar beets planted in 2018 were genetically modified.
“Genetic engineering has created new plants that are resistant to insects and diseases, led to products with improved nutritional profiles, as well as certain produce that don’t brown or bruise as easily,” said Stephen M. Hahn, MD, commissioner of the FDA.
One educational video from the FDA points out that genetically modified soybeans have healthier oils that may be used to replace oils that contain trans fats. Other materials highlight how reduced bruising and browning may help combat food waste.
Consumers, however, remain uncertain. Concerns that GMOs are unhealthy and harmful are widespread. The number of shoppers avoiding GMOs tripled over the past decade, according to The Hartman Group. Close to half of consumers surveyed last year said they avoid bioengineered ingredients, compared to 15% in 2007.
A study published last year in Nature Human Behavior found more than 90% of participants had some level of opposition to GMO foods. It also found that consumers with the strongest opposition to GMO foods thought they were more knowledgeable about the topic than other participants, despite scoring lower on an actual knowledge test.
“While foods from genetically engineered plants have been available to consumers since the early 1990s and are a common part of today’s food supply, there are a lot of misconceptions about them,” Dr. Hahn said. “This initiative is intended to help people better understand what these products are and how they are made.”
The Feed Your Mind initiative will launch in phases. Materials already released include a new website, fact sheets, infographics and videos. Supplementary science curriculum for high schools, resources for health professionals and additional consumer materials will be released later this year and in 2021.