Crop Biotech Update

Definitions, Perceived Benefits Affect Public Acceptance of Novelty Food

April 20, 2022

An online experiment involving participants from the United Kingdom (UK) and Switzerland was able to identify factors that affected the public's acceptance of products derived from genetic modification (GM) and genome editing. To improve people's perceptions and acceptance, risk communication must be conducted to dispel uncertainty about innovative food technology.

The experiment involved 995 participants from the UK and Switzerland who were presented with the topic of food biotechnology focusing on experimentally varied vignettes on transgenic and GM, and genome editing. Results showed that general and personal acceptance of the technologies were affected by the participants' belief that the technology is beneficial, how they perceive scientific uncertainty, and their country of residence. Specifically, the findings are:

  • UK participants are more supportive of biotechnology than Swiss participants as a partial result of the continuous prolonged moratorium in Switzerland that prohibits the use of GM organisms in agriculture. After reading the definition, the Swiss participants' definition of "food biotechnology" was negatively affected by the frequent mention of "organic farming" and "eco products," while participants from the UK strongly associated "food biotechnology" with innovation.
  • Genome editing was more accepted than genetic modification by both groups because the former was described as more precise than the latter. Thus, science communicators must focus on explaining the different technologies in terms of precision, along with ethical considerations to familiarity and terminology, to discourage rejection among consumers.
  • Acceptance of novelty food is influenced by perceived relevant personal or societal benefits. More research on the role of benefit perceptions in consumer acceptance is recommended.
  • Lastly, communicating the usefulness of gene technology may be a more successful strategy to improve perception and acceptance compared to focusing on safety and negligible risk.

Learn more from Agriculture and Human Values.

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