The Washington Post contains an article on a recent survey by Oklahoma State University where over 80 percent of Americans support “mandatory labels on foods containing DNA,”
The Oklahoma State survey result is probably an example of the intersection between scientific ignorance and political ignorance, both of which are widespread.The most obvious explanation for the data is that most of these people don’t really understand what DNA is, and don’t realize that it is contained in almost all food. When they read that a strange substance called “DNA” might be included in their food, they might suspect that this is some dangerous chemical inserted by greedy corporations for their own nefarious purposes.
The article discusses the wider issue of scientific ignorance driving policy decisions, and there is some further comment at io9. A summary of the full survey results is available (PDF).
Consider that many mental illnesses are demonstrably genetic. Were the public to understand genetics in more detail, it would go a long ways towards reversing the stigma against mental illness, which to this very day is commonly regarded as a character defect on the part of the one who suffers.
The concern about GMO foods isn't just hippies being politically correct. Monsanto developed a species of corn that produces its own insecticide. While they claim that humans don't digest the insecticide, it's found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.
My main gripe about GMO foods is that they are primarily not used to promote human health - as is the case with Golden Rice, which contains Beta Carotene - but that GMO crops are commonly used to enable pesticide resistance. What that means is that we are breeding insects that are increasingly resistant to pesticides themselves.
Humans have had agriculture for roughly 8,000 years. We've had chemical pesticides for roughly eighty years. Are chemical pesticides really necessary?
I would argue that they were, for a few decades. However the developed world now has a huge surplus of food. The problems of hunger could largely be solved through more equitable distribution of the food we already have as well as enabling the developing world to take advantage of agricultural technologies other than pesticides. For example I myself used to write image processing code for an agricultural consulting firm that used multispectral aerial imaging to diagnose crop diseases as well as to predict yields.
That would be cheap as dirt to do with a quadcopter.