July 15, 2003 -- A third of Americans try to avoid buying foods that have been genetically modified or treated with antibiotics or hormones — and that resistance apparently would swell if such products were required to be labeled, as the public broadly desires.
There have been gains in the belief that genetically modified food is safe to eat — up 11 points since 2001, to 46 percent, the latest ABCNEWS poll finds. Still, if it were labeled, 55 percent of Americans say they'd avoid such foods, including 62 percent of women, who do most food shopping.
Nearly half of adults, 47 percent, also say they'd try to avoid hormone- or antibiotic-treated food if it were labeled as such, the poll finds.
As things stand, without labels, about one-third of Americans say they try to avoid buying both kinds of foods. The rest say it's not important enough to bother.
The food industry opposes mandatory labeling, perhaps reflecting its concerns over the level of consumer resistance. But in this survey, huge majorities of Americans favor mandatory labeling — 92 percent for genetically modified foods, and 85 percent for food from farm animals that have been fed hormones or antibiotics.
On the flip side of the labeling issue, 51 percent say they're attracted to foods with labels saying they're not genetically modified; and 46 percent say the same for food labeled as hormone- and antibiotic-free.
The public divides evenly, 46 percent to 46 percent, on whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat, indicating more acceptance than two years ago, when these foods were seen as unsafe by a margin of 52 percent to 35 percent.
There's also a division on food from farm animals treated with hormones or antibiotics; 49 percent think it's safe, 42 percent unsafe.
Again, there's a difference by sex, with women less apt than men to say these foods are safe. Women's concerns peak specifically with gene-altered food; 54 percent think it's unsafe, while 56 percent of men say the opposite. (In 2001, however, more women — 62 percent — thought bio-engineered foods were unsafe.)
More generally, nine in 10 adults think food eaten in the United States is safe, far more than say that about genetically altered or hormone-treated food. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private studies, at least one-third of U.S. crops are bio-engineered, including two-thirds of soybeans.
Residents of the Midwest, sometimes referred to as the Farm Belt, have a slightly more favorable view of gene-altered food; 53 percent think it's safe, compared with 39 percent in the Northeast. People who've attended college are also more likely to say altered foods are safe.
This ABCNEWS poll was conducted by telephone July 9-13 among a random national sample of 1,024 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were done by TNS Intersearch of Horsham, Pa.
Previous ABCNEWS polls can be found in our Poll Vault.