While consumer acceptance of gene-edited food is low, giving shoppers the facts about the benefits of this food can change attitudes and improve uptake, a new report finds.
The report, entitled “Consumer Attitudes, Trust, and Acceptance of Bioengineered and Gene-Edited Food Under the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard” was presented by the author, Dr. Vincenzina Caputo, Associate Professor with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics at Michigan State, during a May 31 summit hosted by the food industry association, FMI.
The research was undertaken in a bid to not only help distributors understand consumer tendencies, but also to help consumers understand the dynamic, beneficial, and ever-improving landscape of gene-edited food options. Benefits of gene editing in food include:
- nutritional and anti-spoilage value;
- (reduced) use of pesticides, water usage, and disease resistance;
- animal welfare; and
- (reduced) cost to farmers and consumers.
The report investigated consumer willingness to pay for and consume gene-edited foods via the various means that food packagers and distributors use to present information about their products. In this case, the study focused on labeling for romaine lettuce through a survey of 2,004 U.S. food shoppers in October 2021.
The report found that consumer’s initial acceptance of gene-edited food compared to organic, and conventional food was low. Nonetheless, the study found, providing a benefits message, outlining exactly what was improved in the lettuce, was an effective tool to promote new food technology and increase customer acceptance. This speaks to an overall lack of knowledge on the part of consumers as to what gene editing even is. Case in point: prior to the study, only 37% of respondents had ever heard of gene-edited foods.
The importance of labels and information
This need for information shows why labeling and access to further information is so important, Caputo said. According to the study, package labeling is still the most preferred and trusted information vehicle for consumers when making purchasing decisions, especially when that labeling is done by trusted sources such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture. Almost 70% of respondents want the FDA to act as the decision maker. This is compared to the miniscule trust the study found when analyzing information dissemination via social media or broadcast news outlets.
The study found that consumers undoubtedly want to be informed about which foods are gene-edited. The fact that they also want to be informed about why the food was gene-edited, indicates a real desire on the part of consumers to be educated. Once that has happened, consumer trust, engagement, and readiness to purchase increases substantially. The study’s findings hinted at the fact that effective labeling, along with follow up engagement options, such as text message alerts via QR codes, will not only keep consumers informed and empowered, they could even help sway the tide of public opinion.
Ultimately, public knowledge and trust of gene-edited foods is still low. However, once educated, consumers were much more apt to buy gene-edited foods, as well as seek out more information on their own. Thus, the work being done by FMI and Caputo to increase public understanding via effective information marketing and consumer education is an exciting and necessary step in the right direction for anyone working in the American food industry.