Seed World

Why do GMOs Have an Image Problem? Watch This Week’s Episode

Why do GMOs have an image problem? It’s a question we attempted to answer on the Oct. 13 episode of Seed Speaks.

A recent survey by the American Marketing Association found that consumers feel that GM foods are unnatural, immoral, and unsafe, despite the fact that 70% of processed foods in the United States and Canada already contain GMOs.

The European Commission has all but banned GMO crops and implemented strict GMO labeling laws.

A recent Chinese study found that nearly half of people surveyed had a negative impression of GMO foods.

A Canadian study from March of this year published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Researchfound that those surveyed prefer to buy “organic” or “natural” products over GM ones.

Why is this, and what can our industry do about it? We were joined this week by Andreas Boecker, a professor at the University of Guelph specializing in best practices in communication about novel technologies, in particular agricultural biotechnology; Kavin Senapathy, a writer, journalist, and speaker based in Madison, Wisconsin, whose writing has appeared in outlets like Slate, The Daily Beast and Forbes; and Jenn Armen, vice-president, business and corporate development for Okanagan Specialty Fruits based in North Carolina.

Boecker has studied consumer perception of GMOs extensively, and says those perceptions are affected by two major things: the fact that many GMOs have no direct positive impact on consumers at the grocery store level (they have largely been created to make farming easier via herbicide tolerant traits, he notes), and a negative impression that many consumers have about large life science companies.

Senapathy, once a staunch proponent of GMOs, says she’s stopped defending the technology in recent years, after she began to see the importance of advocating for social and environmental justice in the food system, rather than for specific technologies.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits created the Arctic Apple, a non-browning GMO apple that will not turn brown when cut. Armen will comment on why the Arctic Apple has been embraced by consumers, and what the company has done to address public interest in and concern about GMO products like the Arctic Apple.

Watch the episode above.