Genetic modification is defined by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “the production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses, via either genetic engineering or other more traditional methods.” The NPD study entitled "Gauging GMO Awareness and Impact" asked consumers to tell, in their own words, what the term GMOs means and the answers were diverse. Common words used to describe GMOS from consumers were “genetically altered,” “not natural,” and many consumers say “don’t know.” Some 44% of consumers say GMOs have some kind of benefit, yet at the same time, a higher percentage has some level of concern.
The study points out GMOs are more top-of-mind with consumers because of media coverage and various states’ legislative efforts to label genetically modified foods. This increased awareness could also be a factor in increased levels of concerns about GMOs. In 2002, 43% of consumers expressed any level of concern about genetically modified foods, and a decade later, over half of U.S. adults have some level of concern, according to NPD's Food Safety Monitor, w hich continually tracks consumer awareness and concern about food safety issues and eating intentions. As far as levels of concern, less than 10% of adults were “very” or “extremely” concerned about GMOs in 2002, but now that concern level is at more than 20% of adults, a number which has steadily increased.