Health-linked GMOs the way to acceptance

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm foods, Genetically modified food, Genetic engineering

What's in it for me? Australian research is showing this may be the
key question in selling genetically modified (GM) foods to
consumers.

What's in it for me? Australian research is showing this may be the key question in selling genetically modified (GM) foods to consumers, Reuters reports. Surveys by government agency Biotechnology Australia show that the strongest consumer acceptance of genetic engineering is for GM foods with health benefits, such as lower cholesterol in oils, lower sugar content, or improved nutrition. If consumers perceive that the motive behind genetic modification is blind profit, the product may not sell. Genetic manipulation for taste is a put-off. Engineering better yields for farmers, one of the main reasons why GM crops are being grown in the first place, is also less accepted. And cross-species genetic manipulation, for example through the insertion of fish genes in tomatoes, is a definite "no-no". "If a GM food or crop appears to have been done to no direct consumer benefit, there's a good chance it may not be picked up,"​ Biotechnology's manager of public awareness, Craig Cormick, said following the release last week of the group's latest survey. "Consumers want products they get benefits from, not products that will benefit a grower or a company,"​ he told Reuters. Biotechnology's survey of 1,200 people in April and May showed a continued rise in the acceptance of GM foods in general. The proportion of those who said they would eat GM foods rose to 49 per cent from 35 per cent a year ago and 28 per cent in 1999.This enthused biotech groups. "It's pretty positive,"​ said Brian Arnst, spokesman for the Australian unit of U.S. life science giant Monsanto Co. The survey results put Australia in line with public attitudes in New Zealand on GM foods and midway between Europe, where the majority of consumers oppose GM foods, and the United States, where most people accept them. Australia's consumer acceptance rate of about 50 per cent compares with 70-75 per cent in the United States and about 35 percent in Europe. Biotechnology's new Australian survey showed a majority, 51 per cent, believe genetic engineering would improve human lives over the next 20 years. This was up from 42 per cent in 1999.Most Australians also now believe that most applications of gene technology are morally acceptable. "There's a lot of concern (about GMs), but low level concern. GM food concerns were noticeably less than concerns about pollution or greenhouse gases,"​ Cormick said. But the survey showed support had fallen for GM foods, which were altered simply for taste, a trivial rather than beneficial modification, Cormick said. Only 37 per cent of respondents accept modification of crops to make them more pest resistant, although this was up from 31 per cent in 1999. The survey delivered a decisive thumbs down to cloning, rejected by 98 per cent, and to cross-species engineering. "People are pretty comfortable crossing plants with other plants. Animal genes in plants, forget it,"​ Cormick said. "They are fairly comfortable with human genes for a human pharmaceutical application. (But) putting human genes into animals, like growing organs on pigs... forget it,"​ Cormick said.

Related topics: Research

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