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Does the phrase “GMO” scare consumers? Does it affect their buying and eating habits?

Maybe, says Darren Seifer, Food and Beverage Analyst from the NPD Consumer Research Group. “Recent ballot initiatives may been defeated, but that doesn’t mean that concerns aren’t increasing,” Seifer said, when speaking to the group of grocery store representatives who attended Shopping for Health this year. “There’s still a lot of confusion about this issue.”

Consumers in the NPD survey describe GMOs as “foods that have been genetically altered, sometimes in a favorable way and other times in a non-favorable way.” Many say that they “have no idea” what GMO actually means or what the acronym even stands for. (The letters mean Genetically Modified Organism.)

A quarter of primary grocery shoppers claim to have heard “a great deal” or “quite a lot” about GMOs. While that is significant, it is still on the lower end of other health concerns involving food, such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, trans fats and growth hormones in milk. Concerns about GMOs have been rising, from 15% of all adults in 2011, to 16% in 2012 and 20% in 2013. Only concern about high fructose corn syrup, which has also received media attention in recent years, is as high.

Shoppers by and large (44%) do recognize that GMOs offer benefits, such as pest resistance in crops (25%), and extending shelf life (15%.) But 70% say they have “at least some concerns” about consuming GMO, primarily “the idea of creating something harmful and unhealthy with toxins or just messing with living organisms.” Twenty-nine percent worry that GMOs are not safe to eat and 25% think they may create additional food allergies.

Seifer thinks this is an issue to watch. “Greater media coverage in the future could translate to even more awareness and concerns,” he said.

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