By: David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation
From the moment our ancestors intentionally put seeds in the ground and started keeping livestock, humans have been seeking ways to improve plant and animal varieties. Over the ages we’ve done this through selective breeding, cross breeding, grafting and assorted other techniques; and at each step we have engaged the current scientific discoveries to improve our ability to make helpful improvements to our crops and farm animals.
Gene editing is the next development in plant and animal breeding, and it utilizes recently developed biotechnology tools to make small, targeted, and precise changes to the genome of a plant or animal. For this reason, gene editing is sometimes referred to as precision breeding.
Many botanists recognize gene editing’s potential to produce plants that are more pest resistant, adaptable to new growing conditions or have improved taste or nutritional profiles. Likewise, animal husbandry experts recognize the possibilities through gene editing to make animals more disease resistant, solve hereditary health conditions or address numerous animal welfare concerns. While many recognize the huge potential of gene editing, the simple fact remains, the success of this new technology in food production rests upon consumer acceptance of foods that have been gene edited or products containing gene edited ingredients.
The FMI Foundation, in collaboration with American Seed Trade Association, Farm Bureau and the Farm Foundation, recently commissioned Dr. Vincenzina Caputo at Michigan State University to conduct research gauging consumer acceptance of gene edited foods. Some key findings have emerged from this recently released study. These include:
- Consumers indicated a very low level of knowledge or awareness about gene editing. Over half readily acknowledged they had never heard of it and an additional 20% said they had heard the words but didn’t know what it was. Additionally, they associated predominantly negative feelings with the technology.
- As expected, given the severe lack of understanding about gene editing, consumers exhibited a lower willingness-to-pay for gene-edited products when given alternatives, such as organic, conventionally produced, non- GMO and GMO products.
- There were significant increases in the willingness-to-pay for gene edited products when basic information was provided and especially when that information was supplemented with an indication of the specific benefits of gene editing technology.
- Overall, consumers resonated better with information treatments regarding environment and consumer health benefits of gene edited products than they did with the benefits to the farmers.
These and additional insights from the research point to opportunities in educating consumers regarding the benefits of gene edited foods and provide some vital information concerning the more efficient pathways for future marketing of gene edited products.