When Chipotle announced earlier this year that it would no longer serve food made with genetically modified organisms because of safety concerns, customers rejoiced. But there was one big problem: Just as more Americans grow wary of GMOs, the scientific community is moving in the opposite direction. There is now near unanimity among scientists that GMOs are safe to eat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have all said that GMOs are fine for consumption.
Yet the divergence between scientists and the American public has only grown bigger. As of last fall, nearly 60 percent of americans believed that GMOs were 'generally unsafe'. Back in 2000 the population was pretty much evenly split.
There are many reasons for this, says Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist at Oklahoma State University, who has been studying people's aversion to GMOs ever since they were introduced in the late 1990s. Lusk likens the split to the disagreement that once existed between the scientific community and general public about climate change but warns that it can be hard to change people's minds about biotechnology.
I spoke with Lusk to learn why people are so scared of GMOs, why he believes they shouldn't be, and what it will take to allay that fear. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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