Consumer Acceptance Holds the Key to Unlocking the Potential for Gene-Edited Foods

Mankind has been discovering innovative ways to grow food since the dawning of agriculture; gene editing is the next frontier in this long history of developing and advancing innovative breeding techniques. Scientists and breeders are still in the early stages of gene editing, but this technology holds great promise in improving crop productivity and resilience, improving animal health, reducing food waste, enhancing the nutritional value of our food, and reducing the carbon footprint of production agriculture.

Indeed, last month when the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to two scientists for the development of a method of gene editing, they described the innovation as “genetic scissors” that “are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.”

However, the ultimate measure of success for gene editing is consumer acceptance.

That’s why the FMI Foundation partnered with the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA), the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Farm Foundation on a research effort to establish a baseline for consumer understanding of gene editing and how that level of understanding impacts purchasing decisions.

The nationwide survey examined U.S. consumer beliefs, awareness, and understanding of gene editing in food and agriculture, and their willingness-to-pay for gene-edited foods as it pertains to fresh and processed vegetables and meat.

The research findings, which were released earlier this year, demonstrated that consumers are largely unaware of gene editing and specifically the promise it holds in addressing some of our most pressing challenges. Some of the key findings include:

  • More than half of consumers have never heard of gene editing
  • Despite limited awareness of gene editing, most consumers still value having the option to buy gene-edited foods
  • Consumers are more willing to purchase gene-edited foods when they know the specific benefits to the consumer, the environment and animal health.
  • When consumers are informed of the benefits of gene editing, market potential exceeds 15 percent for gene-edited products.

Clearly, there are opportunities for the food and agriculture industries to communicate early and often to consumers about the benefits of gene editing and avoid some of the challenges and setbacks that hampered the GMO discussion. We know from experience that new technologies can initially cause consumer confusion. It is our hope that these research results serve as a path forward for us to collaborate and facilitate a better understanding and a common language around gene-edited products.

– David Fikes, Executive Director, FMI Foundation