We Have Nothing to Fear But Dinner Itself

At last, a solution to the nation’s obesity epidemic: If current trends continue, Americans will be afraid to eat much of anything. Old-fashioned disease and newfangled technology are the culprits. Mad-cow mania has gained momentum here, with 30 percent of respondents to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll calling the bovine disease a “major threat” to the “health and safety of Americans.” At the beginning of last month, 28 percent of people in a Gallup poll were “very concerned” that mad-cow disease would become a problem in the U.S. By the end of the month, another Gallup poll found 37 percent feeling this way. A similar number (39 percent) were very concerned about foot-and-mouth disease. Indeed, 24 percent went so far as to claim (truthfully or otherwise) that they’ve reduced their consumption of various meats due to these livestock maladies. Could the wonders of modern food technology compensate for the shortcomings of animal husbandry? No such luck. For a sizable minority of consumers, biotechnology is one more reason to view the dining room as a chamber of horrors. And they’re not about to let ignorance get in the way of their fears. In a survey by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the number of people saying genetically modified foods are “basically unsafe” (25 percent) was more than double the number saying they’d heard “a great deal” about the subject (9 percent). So, for that matter, was the number saying these foods are “basically safe” (29 percent). Safe or not, just 10 percent of those polled said they’d be “very likely” to eat biotech foods. The most intriguing tidbit from Pew’s study: When informed that “more than half of products at the grocery store are produced using some form of biotechnology or genetic modification,” the number of respondents who said such foods are basically safe jumped to 48 percent. In other words, if people believe they’ve already eaten these foods and lived to tell the tale, they’re less apt to be hostile toward them.