There are times when the elusive “tipping point” toward the end or at least containment of genetically modified foods seems light years away, and then there are times when it seems like all the momentum is on the other side and a real change is imminent.

One day, headlines might include something about a new “Agent Orange” style GMO crop, while the next day they might spotlight another country’s GMO ban or laws to stop the spread of more crops.

So, what can we make of all this, and could the “tipping point” GMO Freedom activists talk about be closer than we think?

One fairly recent study from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, published in a July 22, 2011 online edition of the journal Physical Review in an article titled “Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities,” suggests that could in fact be the case.

According to the study, which was published in this Science Daily article, the percentage of the population it takes to create a new belief that will be adopted by the majority of the society at-large is actually surprisingly low. The study found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an “unshakable belief,” their belief will always be adopted by the majority of their peers.

Activism for organics and against GMOs seems to be making a big change.  Picture: Alexis Baden-Mayer, Flickr.

Activism for organics and against GMOs seems to be making a big change.
Picture: Alexis Baden-Mayer, Flickr.

Work on the study was completed by the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer. They used computational and analytical methods to discover this “tipping point,” where a minority belief leads to a majority opinion.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer, according to the Science Daily article.

“Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

He further noted that incredible speed at which dictators in Tunisia and Egypt were toppled, in which the leaders were in power for decades before suddenly being overthrown in just a few weeks.

How Close is the GMO Tipping Point?

Awareness about genetically modified crops and foods in the United States still has a long ways to go, but many numbers are encouraging.

The percentage of people who want to see labels has consistently polled in the 90 percent range, with one 2013 poll conducted by the New York Times showing a final result of 93 percent in favor of the “Yes” crowd.

The same study also found that about 75% of Americans are concerned about the number of GMOs, while 26 percent said they aren’t safe to eat and 13 percent said they’re worried about the environmental effects.

Another poll conducted in 2014 by Consumer Reports saw similar results in favor of labeling. 

While the poll numbers are encouraging, part of me wonders just how much the respondents truly know about GMOs because of the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen.

Most people still eat out and eat GMOs every day, and even many of my friends who know about GMOs continue to purchase many products with them inside. Many people who go to GMO Freedom rallies even continue to consume such foods beforehand, oftentimes at restaurants that serve them.

The pervasiveness and stealth nature of GMOs makes them a little trickier to remove and more inconvenient to avoid because of the sheer mental commitment it takes.

That being said, we’re starting to see the narrative around GMOs change fast, as well as a huge increase in the number of (young) people interested in organic farming. Worldwide March Against Monsanto rallies continue to draw millions in cities across the world.

Better yet, certified GMO-free products are becoming among more popular than ever, as those who seek to avoid GMOs continue to search high and low for products they can trust.

Last year, the president of Whole Foods even said that once a product becomes Non-GMO Project Verified or GMO-free, sales tend to jump by as much as 30 percent, as noted by this article from Mercola.com.

As Jeffrey Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology noted in that article, “The next stage of the tipping point is coming up very soon. It is called the battle for market share.”

The American Tipping Point for GMOs

With more and more consumers, and companies, seeking GMO-free ingredients, the next phase of the journey to the tipping point is not far away. Even without government subsidies, organic farming and demand of ingredients, even overseas, is skyrocketing.
Now it’s simply a matter of keeping up the momentum and making positive changes every day, while also, and this is often overlooked so listen closely, empowering our organic watchdog organizations to do what our media has not been doing.

In Europe, the tipping point was reached in just 10 years thanks to about 700 articles focused on a single feeding study.

In America, the mainstream media might never report news on GMOs as accurately and as prominently as in Europe due to sponsors’ pressure, but Americans are also growing more and more distrustful of the mainstream media anyway, and millions and millions of people are now getting their news from alternative and social media.

Americans are notoriously apathetic about such issues, but the GMO one is something that tends to stick in their minds once people do enough research on it. And once the number of people who adopt the belief that GMOs are unsafe hits that magic 10 percent mark, change will start to truly take hold.

The aforementioned SCNARC tipping point study also noted that the type of network in which the opinion holders are working does matter nearly as much as one might think.

It said that “regardless of how the opinion starts or spreads” in the society, the shift will happen.

Everyday conversations with “true believers” particularly seem to affect everyday people in drastic ways, according to computer experiments done in the study.

“In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan.

You can read more about the specifics of the study by checking out the article here.

Popularity is king, especially in America, and GMOs are easily the most unpopular thing going in the massive organic food movement taking place right now.

The tipping point may not always seem like it’s within sight every day, but knowing that 10 percent is all it takes is quite the comforting thought for the thousands of dedicated activists working for change, and a future free or at least mostly protected from most forms of GMO contamination.

Keep pushing, folks.

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