Commentary: GMO Literacy Still an Elusive Goal

Commentary: GMO Literacy Still an Elusive Goal

After being used in food production for over 30 years, being determined as safe by enough research studies to fill Ross Ade stadium, and being approved al all U.S. government regulatory agencies, you might think that consumers would have some idea about GMO technology. Yet, a recent study indicates that is not the case. According to a recent survey by GMO Answers, 69% of consumers are not confident they know what GMOs are, and roughly the same number (68%) say they are not comfortable with the use of GMOs in their food products.

According to the research, the biggest issue with consumers is the safety of biotechnology. The fact that no one in the world has gotten sick or died from GMOs in the past 30 years has not really penetrated the consciousness of the food buying public. Still, 74% want to learn more about GMOs’ impact on their overall health, and 67% are interested in learning more about the overall safety of GMOs.  This represents an opportunity — if we can get their attention.

Only 43% of consumers believe that food (in general) sold in the U.S. is safe for consumption despite the U.S. having the most regulated, inspected, and tested food in the world. That means that 57%  believe it is unsafe. This is a serious red flag for the industry that produces food.  All of this should not be too surprising given people have little idea of where their food comes from or how it is produced. There is a public mistrust of science and technology, and anti-agriculture groups have done a good job of spreading misinformation and of fear mongering. It may be hard to win the GMO war with science, but perhaps there is another way.

Most GMO technology has not directly benefited consumers in ways they can understand and appreciate. If they can begin to see some benefits, they will be more likely to be accepting of the technology despite their lack of understanding.  For example, 133 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year. In 2010, the average American threw away 17 apples because they turned brown. GMO technology can produce apples that stay fresh longer and do not turn brown. Every year an average of 24 billion pounds of potatoes end up in landfills because of bruising. GMO potatoes bruise less and last longer.

This kind of approach stands a better chance of reaching consumers; and, by moving the science issue off center stage, we take away some of fear of the unknown that give opponents so much power.  The latest research results show how much work remains to move the needle on consumer acceptance of biotechnology in food production.  That is why it is so important to find new ways to address the fears, ignorance, and misconceptions that the public has about the food that agriculture produces.

 

By Gary Truitt

 

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