Who trusts and distrusts gene-edited foods? New study gauges public acceptance
Published: August 2, 2022
Category: GMO News, The Non-GMO Blog
Through CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies, researchers and developers are poised to bring dozens—if not hundreds—of new products to grocery stores with claims of benefits: mushrooms with longer shelf lives, drought-resistant corn and bananas impervious to a fungus threatening the global supply. A few, including a soybean variety that produces a supposedly healthier cooking oil, are already being sold commercially in the U.S. As with foods derived from the “older” transgenic technology, claims of more nutritious foods and “feeding the world” are being made with gene edited foods.
Advocates say gene editing is faster and more precise than traditional crop breeding methods. Critics argue this new technology could create unintended consequences and that government agencies must address the shortcomings of current regulation. Under current federal law, gene-edited foods do not need to be labeled.
Given the backlash over transgenic engineering GMOs, there’s a lot of speculation over whether the public will accept gene-edited foods, even though the process to create them is different.
A new study from Iowa State University is the first to gauge public acceptance of gene-edited foods using a nationally representative sample of 2,000 U.S. residents. The researchers surveyed participants to understand if they would eat or actively avoid gene-edited foods, and to understand the factors that shape their decisions. The researchers plan to repeat the survey every two years for the next decade to track how public attitudes on gene-edited foods will shift as more products come onto the market.
“Right now, there are a lot of people in the middle. They have not fully made up their mind about gene-edited foods, but as they learn more about the technologies and products, they will likely move to one side of the issue. I think it will depend on their consumer experience—what kind of messaging they trust and who sends it, as well as what products they encounter,” said Senior Research Fellow Christopher Cummings.
Cummings co-authored the paper published in Frontiers in Food Science and Technology with David Peters, a professor of sociology and a rural sociologist with ISU Extension and Outreach.
Here are some other findings:
- A person’s likelihood of eating or avoiding gene-edited foods is primarily driven by their social values and how much they trust government, industry, and environmental groups.
- People who are more willing to eat gene-edited foods generally view science and technology as a primary means to solve society’s problems. They place a high level of trust in government food regulators and the agriculture biotechnology industry and generally do not have strong beliefs about how food should be produced.
- People who are more likely to avoid eating raw or processed gene-edited foods are more skeptical of science and technology. They place greater value on the way their food is produced, saying ethics plays an important role, and rely more on their own personal beliefs or environmental groups rather than government and industry.
- Around 60% of the women in the survey said they would be unwilling to eat and purposely avoid gene-edited foods.
In another study expected to be published this year, Peters and Cummings found 75% of the American public agree there should be a federal labeling law for gene-edited foods, regardless of whether or not they plan on buying or avoiding them.
“The worry is that if more of these gene-edited foods move onto the marketplace and consumers don’t know, there will be a backlash when they find out,” said Peters. “Ag biotech companies who support voluntary labels want other companies to follow suit. The hope is that labels will improve transparency and instill trust among consumers, avoiding any potential backlash or opposition to the technology.”
Source: Iowa State University
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Organic & Non-GMO Insights August 2022