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Jimmy Kimmel Finds The Problem With GMOs: People Don’t Know What They Are

Jimmy Kimmel Finds The Problem With GMOs: People Don’t Know What They Are

Genetically modified organisms have a PR problem.

Asking people on the street technical questions for their hilarious responses is a tried-and-true talk show gag. But when Jimmy Kimmel decided to ask people at a local farmers’ market what they thought GMOs were (and if they try to avoid them), he unknowingly highlighted a tremendous problem in science communication. Take a look:

Of course, videos like these are edited to preferentially include the funny responses, but I think the context matters. These are people buying food at a farmers’ market, people who are probably very conscious of where their food comes from. The incorrect answers are telling, but even more so is the fact that many of the people know that GMOs are bad regardless. I think this gets to the heart of the issue: if scientists want to communicate that GMOs are safe to eat, facts aren’t going to work.

And the facts are one-sided. The most comprehensive study to date, including 100 billion animals over 29 years, recently found that GM food is as safe and nutritious as traditionally grow food. This conclusion echoes the findings of both the World Health Organization (pdf) and The National Academy of Sciences. Aside from a highly publicized study out of France that was internationally debunked and retracted, the all the evidence that we have points to the fact that GMOs are safe for consumption. These findings have been publicized in just about every popular scientific outlet I can think of, and yet, they probably aren’t changing any minds.

Since we started studying science communication, we’ve found that the throw-a-bunch-of-facts-at-your-face approach doesn’t really work (the so-called “deficit model”). There are psychological quirks like the “backfire effect” — when information contradictory to a belief only strengthens that belief — which make straight data dumps poor communication strategies. It’s one thing to see that in a study and think about it in the abstract, it’s another to see it happen in real-time on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

If Kimmel’s video shows anything, it’s that emotions and values matter just as much as facts do, especially when health is at stake. It’s perfectly understandable to be weary of an unfamiliar technology. The discussion surrounding GMOs should acknowledge that before bombarding people with statistics and studies.

Have questions or comments on this post? Find me in the drift @Sci_Phile.

Image: Jimmy Kimmel Live

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  1. josh says:

    The issues surrounding GMOs is not the inherent safety of consuming them, but the detrimental impact they have on the environment. Monsanto, Dupont, and other chemical companies have invested heavily in GMO crops that are resistant to their herbicides and pesticides. The use of these particular GMOs results in the excessive use of chemical pesticides and herbicides that harm the environment and are now evermore present in the food we eat. Modifying plants to allow them different properties has been a part of farming since it began. Chemical companies owning living organisms so that they can douse them with their own chemicals has not. Side note: Monsanto’s influence over our government, which “encourages” the gov’t to shell out subsidies for GMO corn that is then used to make high-fructose corn syrup, is a larger concern.

  2. Also the concerns of health advocates regarding GMO’s are not due to a wariness of “unfamiliar technology”. This is not some luddite flat earther idea, you realize your basically shilling for Monsanto by writing this one-sided tripe, right?

  3. Question to Kyle Hill: Why are you using this article to push the supposed safety of GMO’s? Not saying you were paid to do so, but there are legitimate concerns about the safety of them which people who REALLY DO understand health food.

  4. Jason says:

    Not sure if this has been pointed out, but that “billion animal” study you reference was done by a Monsanto (GMO producer number 1) scientist and has been widely criticized in the scientific community for having many flaws. And many studies are finding problems and many countries are banning them. If it’s so harmless why do companies not want to even warn us when they are ingredients used? you guys are really getting mixed up in a hot button issue that I don’t think you know that much about. Most people just want to know what is in their food, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Natural usually turns out to be healthier and people should have a right to make that decision for themselves. 

  5. Sarah Beth says:

    I support GMOs because they are literally lifesaving in underdeveloped countries.  GMOs withstand harsh conditions in places where a lost harvest can mean life or death. 

  6. Cyndy Keith says:

    The study in France was not debunked. It was removed from a scientific journal, under pressure from GMO pushers, but was eventually recognized again by other reputable journals and organizations. Please don’t ignore facts that don’t fit your agenda; it makes you look republican. And- there have been no studies published at all proving that GMOs are safe.

    • Kyle Hill says:

      Not true Cyndy. The Seralini study has been widely and validly criticized by nearly every scientific organization who took a look at it (

      It was not recognized again, it was republished in another journal which overlooked its shortcomings previously pointed out. Let’s also not that this is one study in contrast to the thousands of studies saying exactly the opposite.

      I provided links to systematic reviews of thousands of studies finding no health effects from GM food in the article.

  7. GMOs are morally and economically dangerous since they are essentially copyrighting seeds which puts small farmers out of business. Also just because they are safe for consumption doesn’t mean they are safe for the environment. For example some plants are genetically modified to withstand herbicides and pesticides. Some are genetically modified to kill bugs that eat them- and we wonder why the bee population has drastically dropped. Bees are extremely important in the ecosystem of the earth. They’re just a bad idea as long as it’s not regulated.

    • Paul says:

      First of all, it’s been illegal for farmers to harvest then RESEED mere HYBRID seeds for some time. What incentive would seed companies ever have to develop new varieties that are more tolerant of drought, cold, etc if a farmer never again has to buy seed that a company spent millions developing just because (s)he has plants them one year. 
      Second of all, even a superficial skimming of various (not just natural news or any other venue from that genre) literature outlets online indicates that Bt corn, your bee killer, has largely no impact on other insects besides the corn borer worm, and in most cases is probably safer than broad spectrum control using insecticides, which generally DOES kill indiscriminately. You’re speculating that BT is killing bees. You have nothing to actually prove that. 
      Lastly, BT crops can mitigate a need for more extensive pesticide control plans by targeting specific “pest” vectors. 
      Disclaimer: I grew up on a “big scary corporate farm” so unfortunately I was cursed with common sense and a perspective on reality that most people don’t have. 

  8. clane says:

    how many 100s of people did they interview to get these few who don’t know what they are talking about? Also is there any proof that they are actually against GMOs and not just being paid by Jimmy? 

  9. In this day and age where the internet is available to all and contains all the knowledge you could need, a lack of knowledge is no longer allowed.
    Ignorance is now a choice.

  10. Tom says:

    The problem regarding GMOs, is far more complicated than their safety for consumption (which, I would think, couldn’t be proven or denied in such a short span of time). The fact that seeds and their use can be patented, and the way they are commercialized around the world (mainly in third world countries) is far more dangerous. Basically, it’s a way for big companies to maintain their grasp on agriculture and economy all around the world, standardizing crops and the way they are cultivated.I don’t have anything against research and scientific advancement. Those are cool.But if we really want to solve world hunger, maybe we should stop wasting so much.  Hope my english is clear. I am french. Must be why I am suspicious of GMOs. Is that scientific reasoning ?

  11. j says:

    So many word and grammar mistakes 🙁