An Overview of Attitudes Toward Genetically Engineered Food
Genetically engineered food has had its DNA, RNA, or proteins manipulated by intentional human intervention. We provide an overview of the importance and regulation of genetically engineered food and lay attitudes toward it. We first discuss the pronaturalness context in the United States and Europe that preceded the appearance of genetically engineered food. We then review the definition, prevalence, and regulation of this type of food. Genetically engineered food is widespread in some countries, but there is great controversy worldwide among individuals, governments, and other institutions about the advisability of growing and consuming it. In general, life scientists have a much more positive view of genetically engineered food than laypeople. We examine the bases of lay opposition to genetically engineered food and the evidence for how attitudes change. Laypeople tend to see genetically engineered food as dangerous and offering few benefits. We suggest that much of the lay opposition is morally based. One possibility is that, in some contexts, people view nature and naturalness as sacred and genetically engineered food as a violation of naturalness. We also suggest that for many people these perceptions of naturalness and attitudes toward genetically engineered food follow the sympathetic magical law of contagion, in which even minimal contact between a natural food and an unnatural entity, either a scientist or a piece of foreign DNA, pollutes or contaminates the natural entity and renders it unacceptable or even immoral to consume.