Kavin Can’t Even: 80% of Americans want mandatory labels for food containing DNA

I appreciate the following I’ve garnered for my science advocacy writing. My readers are clever, kind, and willing to engage in civil, evidence-based discussion. As I’ve stated,

“I loathe unsubstantiated fear-mongering, especially when it exploits scientific ignorance. I’m not a scientist by the traditional definition, but I have a unique perspective afforded by the intersection of a solid working knowledge of genomics, genetics, and bioinformatics, as well as my identity as a regular mom that truly wants the best for my kids. I’m also an oddball most of the time. For what it’s worth, I will use whatever skills and quirks I have to be a loudspeaker for science, to help appease the fear-factor, and to bring back an imperative level of trust in science that is so direly lacking.”

In this spirit, I’ve decided to write a monthly column called “Kavin Can’t Even.” These will be short pieces in which I present my reaction to disturbing science gaffes from the vast internet quagmire of unscientific debris. I hope that “Kavin Can’t Even” will bring attention to these issues in a fun, Facebook-shareable way, and help illustrate the point that scientific literacy is critical. Also, I’ll delight my readers with a monthly picture of me making a different incredulous face.

Without further ado, here’s what made me facepalm this week:

A whopping 80 % of Americans want mandatory labels for food containing DNA. Yes, you read that right. Oklahoma State University conducts a monthly online survey known as FooDS with a minimum of sample size of one thousand individuals “weighted to match the US population in terms of age, gender, education and region of residence.” Among other information, this month’s survey included this:

Survery results
Image credit

Seriously, you guys, I just can’t. It’s no wonder there is staunch public opposition to genetically modified foods. It’s no wonder that a 2005 survey revealed that 60% of respondents didn’t realize that non-genetically modified tomatoes contain genes. (Please note, there aren’t any GM tomato varieties on the market at this time.) This FooDS survey result suggests that most Americans don’t understand what DNA is. As Ilya Somin of the Washington Post jokingly proposes, DNA-containing food could bear the following label:

“WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.”

Oh, Ilya, you make me LOL! All joking aside however, this ignorance allows industry to exploit a gullible and fearful public (Non-GMO Project verified salt, anyone?) I’m not going to delve into the minutia of our education system, but clearly a dire disservice has been committed. While most of my readers will know this, DNA is the fundamental hereditary molecule in nearly all living things. DNA is not scary. Stealing from my previous work:

“Proteins are the most basic functional components of living things. Proteins serve all purposes from structure, immunity, metabolic, nutritive, enzymatic functions, and more. Everything your body is and does is achieved through the actions of these proteins. They are macromolecules comprised of amino acid chains (polypeptides.) The sequence of amino acids in any protein determines its 3D structures, which in turn abet its function. Much in the same way a hammer’s shape and material composition gives it a hammering utility while the shape of a whisk allows the beating of eggs, certain proteins comprise structural elements of connective tissue, while others aid in the transport of nutrients throughout the body.

The amino acid sequence is determined by codons, each codon coded for by 3 adjacent nucleotides (any permutation of three of A,C,T, and G, each letter representing a different organic molecule.) One human genome, which is the entirety of genetic information replicated in each and every cell in an individual, is comprised of 3 billion nucleotide bases (3 billion characters of A,C,T, and G.)”

Thus, the vast majority of the food we consume will contain DNA with some exceptions. Non-plant derived or highly-refined items like pure salt, refined white sugar, vinegar, and certain beverages don’t contain DNA. I know that most of my followers and readers know this, and we need people like you to spread this information far and wide. Please, help save my face from further palm damage, folks! Please, save your loved ones from Non-GMO Project certified salt! Because friends don’t let friends remain scientifically ignorant.

Note:  If you share this piece, please use hashtag #kavincanteven. Thanks!

Featured image © 2015 Kavin Senapathy


Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy is a mom of two, co-Executive Director of March Against Myths, public speaker, Forbes contributor and author in Madison, WI. She is also co-author of "The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House". Follow her on Facebook and twitter @ksenapathy

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  1. I saw an article about this and thought of you Kavin. Thank you for not disappointing.

    Can I view this as a positive sign? Maybe we can educate people and change up some minds? I mean if people are THIS CLUELESS?


  2. People are making far too much of this survey question and interpreting it too literally. Basically all it shows is that if you put a list of things in front of people and ask them if they want those things labeled, they will say yes. The question could have said: “Would you want a label for OMG?” and the answer would be the same. While there may be public ignorance regarding what and where DNA is, other surveys have consistently shown there is little unprompted support for labeling biotech, and certainly not DNA 🙂

  3. I would guess that most people who read that would interpret the question to mean “artificially introduced DNA”. Because the question would make more sense that way, and because that’s the context in which people are used to DNA being brought up.

    So it may not be that people don’t know what DNA is, it may just be that they didn’t interpret the question literally.

    (Though I bet there are a certain number of people who interpret it to mean “human DNA,” having heard of DNA mainly in the context of murder trials.)

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