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Why do consumers accept or reject ag technology?

Getty/iStockphoto Meat cultured in laboratory conditions
New research could advance innovations for a safe and sustainable food supply.

Farmers are continuously striving to produce more food to feed the world while increasing sustainability. Ag technology is an important piece in that puzzle.

However, consumers must buy in to new technology for it to become part of the solution.  

New research from The Center for Food Integrity identifies factors that contribute to consumers either accepting or rejecting new agricultural technology. The results provide insights on how the industry can move forward to build stronger consumer trust in new technology.

The study measured consumer attitudes regarding four agriculture and food technologies: gene editing of plants, gene editing of animals, plant-based meat alternatives and cultured meat.

Generational differences

“One thing I found very encouraging about this research is that Gen Z, millennials and early adopters tended to be more accepting of all the different technologies in the model we put forward,” says Charlie Arnot, CEO of CFI.

Gen Z and millennials see technology as a tool to solve societal problems. They are more willing to embrace technology that could alleviate hunger, protect the environment, or provide added convenience.

Early adopters are influencers in social settings. Their interest in new technology can be a great advantage for the industry since they can influence the decisions of other consumers.

Food transparency

It comes as no surprise that consumers place high importance on transparency. “When consumers realized they were consuming GMO products for years without their knowledge, they were outraged,” Arnot explains.

Consumers want to be able to make their own educated decision about the products they are eating. Easily accessible information explaining the safety and naturalness of the end products are key to building acceptance.

When polled, consumers expressed they are most likely to access information provided directly on the food label or packaging. Still, there was a significant interest in accessing information provided through third-party websites, mobile apps and QR codes.

Cultural influences

The research also found a difference in consumer acceptance of technology used on plants compared to technology used on animals.

“We assign human characteristics to animals, and we have a complicated cultural relationship with animals,” Arnot says. “People are less comfortable with technology being applied to animal agriculture than technology being applied to plant agriculture.”

In addition, acceptance is driven by how much a technology could change cultural norms. For example, preparing meat is an importance piece of American culture. Grilling out can be a tradition and an emotional experience. Because of that connection, it could be more difficult for consumers to accept a technology that would affect that piece of their culture.

Moving forward

CFI hopes the model used in this study can be applied to more ag technologies in the futures to help the food and agriculture industries assess consumer mindsets.

By identifying which factors lead to consumer acceptance or rejection of each ag technology, the industry can build a path forward to strategically address those factors with consumers.

“Nearly 2 out of 3 have a very positive or somewhat positive view of agriculture today,” Arnot says. “That’s great news.”

This study was conducted with support from the United Soybean Board.

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