According to a Pew Research report released yesterday, millennials in the United States are more likely than people of other age groups to be skeptical of genetically modified organisms and believe organic foods are better for their health and the environment.
61% of surveyed American adults younger than 30 years old said organic foods are better for health, compared with 57% of adults between 30 and 49 years old, and 45% of those over age 65. 48% of surveyed adults between ages 18 and 29 said GM foods are far worse for health than non-GM foods, compared with only 29% of adults over age 65 who think so.
But these beliefs are not science-based, New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal points out. Most of it is the result of fear-mongering and misleading headlines targeted at gullible, inexperienced consumers.
The Genetic Literacy Project debunks several fears pushed by the organic foods industry to scare such consumers:
GMO toxins were found in maternal and fetal blood
So what, Layla Katiraee, a biotech scientist and PhD expert in molecular genetics from the University of Toronto says. Just because a toxin exists, it doesn’t indicate any sort of danger for your body. Humans lack receptors for certain proteins found in GMOs, so aside from potentially loitering in our blood in tiny traces, the toxin does not affect us negatively.
DNA from GMOs can be transferred into your DNA if you eat them
That is a misinterpretation of a 2013 study which found that genes from the foods we eat can be detected floating around in our blood plasma. That does not mean the genes have integrated into our own DNA.
GMOs are linked to gluten disorders
This idea was based on a non-science research “study” by activist Jeffrey Smith based on the principle of correlation, not causation, and has received criticism from actual scientific institutions such as the Celiac Disease foundation. Katiraee notes that associating gluten allergies with GMO wheat consumption is absurd, simply based on the fact that GMO wheat has not been commercialized.
Genetically modified corn was linked to rat tumors
As Jon Entine, senior fellow at the Center for Health and Risk Communication, criticizes, this claim was based on a study which was retracted after it was found the strain of rats used in the study was predisposed to tumors, and used a sample size way too small. Moreover, the study competes with other long-term feeding studies which prove the opposite and are ignored by the anti-GMO community.
Glyphosate causes breast cancer
This was also based on a study with multiple technical issues which found glyphosate has similar effects on breast cancer growth as estrogen does, but fails to take into account previous studies which found glyphosate might actually suppress cell proliferation instead of induce it. News headlines ran off with headlines stating glyphosate causes breast cancer, ignoring that that was not even the study’s findings.
Katiraee further debunks more fears, concluding most of them are based on studies that are “either obviously flawed or are not scientific studies.”
So why are these anti-GMO beliefs so widely held among millennials?
It isn’t a mystery why: Young people are probably a lot more likely to identify as environmentalists and/or to go out of their way to explore healthy eating, and if you start hanging out with or talking to people with these interests, you’ll likely encounter a lot of loudly communicated social norms and expectations in opposition to genetically modified foods. That doesn’t mean that there are sound scientific reasons to shun GMOs, though.
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