How do Americans feel about organic and genetically modified foods? There doesn't seem to be a consensus.

The Pew Research Center polled 1,480 Americans about organic and genetically modified foods and found that we're a nation divided by our beliefs about how healthy we think they are.

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said organic produce is healthier than conventionally grown produce, according to Food Navigator. About four out of every 10 said that genetically modified foods (also known as GEs or GMOs) are not as healthy as non-GMO foods. Based on those numbers, somewhere in there are about 15 percent who think organic foods are healthier but also think GMOs aren't worse than non-GMOs.

I tend to think that those in favor of organics are also against GMOs, so that 15 percent is intriguing to me. What's even more fascinating about this survey is what it reveals about people's thoughts on the importance of food to their well-being.

"The data suggest that people's divisions are linked to their interest in food issues and how they think food consumption ties to their well-being," said Cary Funk, lead author and associate director of research at Pew, in a statement.

Their beliefs about organics and GE foods aren't directly linked to their level of education, household income, where they live or political affiliation, the poll found. They are linked to how they think what they eat affects their well-being. And, it seems, based on this data, that about half of Americans don't see the connection between the food they eat and their physical and mental health.

That's a surprisingly big a number, and while the poll found that the amount of education someone has didn't influence their beliefs, I'm wondering if the content of the education does. It seems to me that the results of this survey reinforce the need for more nutrition and food education in schools. I'm talking about education that directly links the consumption of whole foods, particularly plant-based foods, with better health.

Here are some other results from the Pew poll:

  • Only 6 percent of people say they eat organic most of the time.
  • Forty-eight percent said GM foods are no different from non-GM foods; 10 percent said GM foods are better for health.
  • About 8 percent are particularly focused on healthy and nutritious eating and are especially likely to consider organic produce healthier than conventionally grown produce.
  • Younger generations are more inclined than older ones to see health benefits in organic produce and health risks in GM foods.
  • Women are more likely than men to care deeply about the issue of GM foods (20 percent vs. 12 percent).
  • People focused on eating healthy and nutritious foods follow news about GM foods more closely than other Americans: 51 percent follow it at least somewhat closely, compared with 21 percent of those with little or no priority on healthy eating.
  • About 3 percent of Americans say they follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet and another 6 percent say they are mostly vegan or vegetarian. Most of those people fall into the category of those focused on eating healthy and nutritious foods.
  • About 60 percent say scientists should have a major role in GM policy decisions and 28 percent say scientists should have a minor role. Just 11 percent think scientists should have no role in policy decisions.

There's much more information in the full report, and I imagine that food marketers, policy makers, educators and food writers will look at the information from their unique perspectives. As someone who believes organics are healthier for people and for the planet, and as someone who has many unanswered questions about GMOs, I think more education is needed. What do you see in the information?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.