Science misinformation on GMOs reaches quarter of a billion people, study suggests

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Science misinformation about genetically modified crops (GMOs) and foods had a potential global readership of over a quarter of a billion people, according to a new study published by the Alliance for Science, which combats anti-science misinformation on topics such as climate, vaccines, and GMOs.

The paper, which is published in the peer-reviewed journal GM Crops & Food, is titled “Misinformation in the media: global coverage of GMOs 2019-2021.” The lead author is Mark Lynas, climate and research lead at the Alliance for Science, which is based at the Boyce Thompson Institute in Ithaca, New York.

The study assessed top English-language media from around the world, with stories published over a two-year period between January 2019 and January 2021. Articles were assessed for misinformation, defined as statements that disagreed with the scientific consensus on the safety of genetic engineering.

Overall, 9 per cent of the 535 relevant articles containing ‘GMO’-related keywords contained misinformation. This false information was considered likely to have had a potential reach of 256 million people.

Africa saw the highest instances of the problem, where one-fifth of media coverage of genetically modified foods contained misinformation. The same figures for North America and Europe were 5 per cent, and 7 per cent, respectively.

As well as regional tags, the articles were also subjected to sentiment analysis. While an overwhelming majority of articles were categorized as ‘neutral,’ the majority of misinformation was rated as ‘negative’ in tone. There were no articles containing misinformation with a positive tone towards GMOs.

The biggest category of misinformation concerned human health. This category includes articles containing claims that GMOs cause cancer or other health impacts without refutation, because such claims contradict a worldwide scientific consensus that food from genetically engineered crops is as safe as food from non-genetically engineered crops. Misinformation on GMOs and human health also had the highest readership, achieving a potential reach of 139 million people.

Lynas has previously published work with the Alliance for Science quantifying the scientific consensus on climate change, and examining media misinformation both on COVID-19 and vaccines. This new paper is thought to be the first to quantify the extent of GMO-related misinformation in the world’s media based on a comprehensive dataset.

Related: Why GMOs are green — and necessary

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