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Are we over our GM-food phobia?

The idea of genetically modified food (GM food), or genetically modified organisms (GMO) in general, has long been a point of concern for the public. The idea of tampering with our food’s genetic makeup brought to mind horrific images of mutant cabbages or vegetables spliced with the DNA of animals, and the thought of putting that in our bodies was less than appealing.

Of course, humans have been interfering with the development of food for quite some time. It’s been suggested that the inaccurate idea of “natural farming” seems healthier than crops grown with the use of technology, even though traditional farming uses forms of technology too.

Though selective breeding is, arguably, less invasive than GM processes, it still results with a wildly different organism from what nature intended. For example, those juicy orange carrots we love in our Sunday roasts were once purple! They only became orange by human input. Is genetic modification just the next stage of selective breeding of plants and animals? Is it really any more dangerous than that?

It was a key concern throughout the 1990s, but studies show that the fear seems to be dying down. According to The Telegraph, the younger generation is nowhere near as worried about consuming GM foods as their parents or grandparents. The study showed that two-thirds of Millennials were perfectly happy to see technology advance farming techniques, and only 20% were worried about GM crops.

This shift in attitude follows numerous studies that have failed to find a link between GM food and any sort of threat. Studies have been carried out by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, as well as the University of Perugia, for example, and neither were able to find any notable link between GM crops and any risks.

In fact, key figures are starting to become more outspoken in support of GM foods in an attempt to dismiss the fears of the past. Early in 2018, during a Reddit question-and-answer session, Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, responded to a question regarding the risks of GM foods by saying:

“GMO foods are perfectly healthy, and the technique has the possibility to reduce starvation and malnutrition when it is reviewed in the right way.”

But until the process is embraced, we won’t reap the rewards that Gates outlines, particularly regarding the potential for GM foods to reduce world hunger. In 2016, Tanzania conducted a GM crop trial with corn that had been genetically modified to be more resistant to drought. In a country where drought is common and food shortages are leaving its people starving, the crop has the potential to be a life-saver.

And indeed, the trial went well. The GM corn grew, it was harvested, gathered together… then burned.

Due to strict biosafety laws in Tanzania, GM foods are not allowed to end up on anyone’s table. It seems ridiculous to grow such a beneficial crop in a time of such need, only to see it intentionally burned. But until people fully embrace that GM crops and foods are nothing to be feared, such hampering of progress will continue.

So, what needs to be done to change the minds of a wider consumer audience?

The Conversation conducted a test to see how advertising can affect a consumer’s view of GM foods. 750 consumer participants were split into three groups, with each being shown adverts for GM foods. The focus for each advert group differed:

  • First group: the adverts focused on how GM foods benefit industry, noting the need for less pesticides, a bigger yield, and a greater world food supply.
  • Second group: the focus for these adverts were on customer benefits, emphasising how GM foods bring better taste and higher nutritional values.
  • Third group: this group saw adverts that showed a balance of both industry and customer benefits.

The results of the study showed that, when presented with industry benefits, customers were less likely to buy GM foods, regardless of whether or not the price was lower. Those who were shown adverts highlighting the benefits to consumers and the industry noted a higher likelihood of buying GM food, even if it meant paying more.

The study concluded that the GM food industry needs to promote how GM foods benefit the consumer directly, rather than the industry or world at large.

Another facet of GM foods is the notion that it seems inherently sneaky — consumers want to know where the ingredients of their food came from. Perhaps we’re not adverse to eating GM foods, we just want to be aware of it. That seems to be the case after a study in Vermont, reported by New Food Magazine: Vermont, was the first state to require GMO-containing foods to be labelled. The data collected before and after the implementation showed that people became less opposed to GM foods after the labelling requirement came into effect. Rather than putting people off, the labels were seen as a positive change. The doctors involved in the research attributed this to a sense of control being given to the consumer, which goes hand-in-hand with risk perception.

 

The key takeaways from this shift in attitude for GM foods? Transparency and honesty are key, and consumers are more likely to embrace change when it is something they are made aware of on their store shelves, rather than regarding it as something being “sneaked” into the food chain with something to hide. By promoting the benefits to the consumer directly, GM foods could become a celebrated food item born of human progress, rather than an unnatural change to be feared.

Article researched by Compost Direct, a leading UK suppliers of all your gardening needs, from grow bags to compost.