June 20, 2003

Broad Opposition to Genetically Modified Foods

Modest Transatlantic Gap

Rising tensions between the Bush administration and governments of Western Europe over U.S. exports of genetically modified foods highlight the differences in attitudes toward these foods on both sides of the Atlantic. A survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, conducted in 2002 and released earlier this month, shows that Western Europeans and Japanese are overwhelmingly opposed to scientifically altered fruits and vegetables because of health and environmental concerns. Although opposition in the U.S. is less widespread, 55% of Americans also believe genetically modified foods are a bad thing.

Nearly nine-in-ten in France (89%) say it is bad to scientifically alter fruits and vegetables “because it could hurt human health and the environment.” Just 10% think genetically modified foods are good because they increase crop yields and help the environment. More than seven-in-ten in Germany (81%), Japan (76%) and Italy (74%) also take a negative view of scientifically altered produce.

In the U.S., where such foods are widely available and the Bush administration has aggressively promoted the export of genetic foods against staunch European opposition, people are more divided over the issue. Nearly four-in-ten Americans (37%) say it is good to scientifically alter some fruits and vegetables because “it increases crop yields to feed more people and is good for the environment,” the highest percentage among the seven nations in which this question was asked.

Despite their opposition to genetic foods, solid majorities in Western Europe, Canada and Japan generally have a highly favorable view of U.S. technology. Moreover, despite their skepticism of genetic foods, most people in the surveyed nations, including the U.S., endorse globalization and expanding international trade.

Generally, women are far less positive than men about scientifically altered fruits and vegetables. The gender gap is largest in Canada, where 73% of women and 52% of men oppose genetically modified produce.

The United States is the only surveyed nation in which men are divided over this issue; 47% of men say scientifically altered fruits and vegetables are bad, 46% view them favorably. Women in the U.S. oppose genetically modified foods, but by a smaller margin than women in other surveyed nations (62% bad, 28% good). There also is a modest partisan gap over genetically modified foods, but majorities of Democrats and Republicans have a negative view of scientifically altered produce (58% of Democrats, 51% of Republicans).

About this Survey

Results described here are drawn from surveys conducted for the 44-nation Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2002. The project’s latest report, “Views of a Changing World,” was released June 3, 2003.

Interviews in the seven nations were conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates among nationwide, representative samples in each country. The fieldwork companies, mode of interview, interview dates, sample sizes, and error margins are as follows:

In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

The question on scientifically altered foods was worded as follows:

“Some people say that it is good to scientifically alter some fruits and vegetables because it increases crop yields to feed more people and is good for the environment. Others say it is bad to scientifically alter some fruits and vegetables because it could hurt human health and the environment. Which comes closer to your view?”