Public perceptions influence success of GM products

The success of agricultural biotechnology depends largely on consumer acceptance of genetically modified products.

The success of agricultural biotechnology depends as much on consumer acceptance of genetically modified (GM) products as it does on the ability to create them, explained William K. Hallman of Rutgers University at the 2016 JAM.

To explore public perceptions of GM food products, Hallman surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,148 American adults during October of 2013. The data was collected by GFK Knowledge Networks from an internet panel recruited using proportional random sampling. The data was weighted to project to the U.S. population, and has a margin of error of ± 3%.

According to Hallman, the results showed that despite the ongoing controversy over GM foods, 50% of Americans reported having heard or read little or nothing about them, 55% reported that they knew very little or nothing at all about them, and two-thirds (66%) said they had never discussed the issue of GM foods with anyone.

Estimates are that 75% of processed foods in the U.S. contain ingredients derived from GM crops. However, only 43% of Americans said that they believe that there are foods containing GM ingredients in supermarkets right now, while 4% say there are no such foods in U.S. supermarkets, and 51% say they didn’t know, said Hallman. He noted that many of those who believe that there are GM foods in the supermarket are confused about which products are available. For example, while 75% correctly indicated that they believe that there are products in U.S. supermarkets containing GM corn, and 59% correctly indicated that they believe there are products containing GM soy, nearly as many (56%) indicated that they believe GM tomatoes, GM wheat (55%) and GM chicken (50%) products are available and 35% believe that GM salmon are currently for sale. Moreover, even though GM food products have been on the market in the U.S. for more than two decades, only 26% of Americans believe that they have ever eaten a food containing GM ingredients.

Yet, while most Americans said they have heard and read little about GM foods, know little about them, have never had a conversation about them, don’t believe they are currently in the supermarket, and don’t believe they have ever eaten them, most are willing to express an opinion about the acceptability of GM food products.

When asked directly, Hallman said only 10% of consumers indicated they approve of GM animal-sourced food products, 44% indicated they disapprove of them, and 43% neither approved nor disapproved of them, or were unsure. Hallman noted a much greater public acceptance of GM technology when specific product benefits were described.  

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