Consumers who reject CRISPR fear that gene-edited crops cause allergies and only benefit food companies, survey shows

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Credit: Inspo Fitness Journal

Recent gene editing technologies advances, such as CRISPR/Cas9, will continue to shape the future of agriculture and genetically engineered crops. Using a representative survey of a North American Midwestern state, we examine the relative weights of specific risks and benefits associated with GMO foods in impacting potential rejection of the technology.

Controlling for established predictors, we find perceptions of specific risks and benefits of the technology have a significant and substantial impact on GMO rejection, with risk aspects playing a relatively greater role. Two risks, viewing GMOs as benefiting food manufacturers and causing allergies and illness, are among the strongest predictors of GMO food rejection, suggesting social dimensions are important to consider and present in the public mind.

Supplementing this, people also consider aspects related to health and nature. We discuss implications for communication efforts about GE foods and crops, and for the future of gene editing in food production.

Together, our results emphasize the interconnectivity of media coverage of GMOs and public rejection, in this case through the coverage and subsequent salience of various aspects of GM foods. Although we find that the effects of media attention are limited with the addition of perceptions of risks and benefits associated with GM food into the model (suggesting a potential overlap in explanatory power), media attention remains a strong predictor of rejection. Further, previous research has suggested that another predictor, perceived familiarity, is likely connected to media attention, again underscoring the importance of the media in GM food rejection.

Related article:  6 common misconceptions about the 'dangers' of genetic engineering and GMOs

We suggest that some specific potential risks and benefits may be more salient for those who pay attention to news about GM foods based on the aspects of the technology that are frequently discussed. Our results also indicate that those who pay more attention to GMO-specific news rate the importance of GMO-free foods more highly. A brief consideration of the ongoing media coverage on GMO-related issues, such as mandatory labeling legislation or concerns with the ethics of biotechnology companies, supports this finding.

Additionally, although viewing GM foods as unnatural, an indication of moral concern with the technology, is associated with increased rejection, we find that other aspects of the technology are of greater weight in explaining rejection. This finding pushes against recent claims on the pervasive appeal of GMO opposition as an emotion-based response to the unnaturalness of GE foods. Rather, the perhaps less instinctually-based views of GM foods as only benefiting food manufacturers and causing allergies and illness elicited stronger responses.

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