Gene-editing is a type of genetic modification through which scientists make precise changes in an organism’s DNA. Changes of the DNA are more targeted and controlled compared to what is known as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). This facilitates a plethora of applications allowing for different benefits, particularly for food products. Benefits include improving the nutritional value of food, minimizing the environmental impacts of food production, and reducing incidences of plant and animal diseases. Yet, the future of gene-editing in agriculture depends on how consumers perceive the technology, understand the benefits implied by its use, and whether they are willing to purchase gene-edited foods.
We surveyed 4,400 US food shoppers to determine consumer’s understanding, knowledge and willingness to pay (WTP) for gene-edited plant and animal products, each in a fresh and processed stage. Results show that more than 50% of consumers have never heard of gene-editing and more than 60% evaluate their knowledge on it as very poor. Further, consumers discount gene-edited products relative to USDA organic, Non-GMO verified, and conventional alternatives, while they do not discriminate much between gene-edited and GMO products bearing the new USDA bioengineered label. Moreover, results show that information on gene-editing needs to be supplemented with benefit messages to significantly improve acceptance; general information on gene-editing technology has limited effects on consumer’s WTP for gene-edited products, while specific information about the technology’s ability to provide benefits to consumers, animals, and the environment improved the acceptance of gene-editing relative to GMOs. Finally, results reveal that consumer WTP for gene-edited food varies across product type and processing stage. Consumers value gene-edited fresh plant products (tomatoes and spinach) more than the processed option (pasta sauce and frozen spinach) and fresh meat (pork chops) from gene-edited animals. They also prefer processed meat (bacon) from gene-edited animals over the fresh alternative (pork chops).
Still, more research is needed to better predict the future of gene-editing and the market potential of gene-edited food alternatives. For example, future studies should focus on the role of trust in science on consumer acceptance of gene-editing or further explore the influence of labeling on consumer WTP.
–Dr. Vincenzina Caputo, Assistant Professor at the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University; Dr. Jayson Lusk, Distinguished Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University; and Valerie Kilders, Research Assistant at Michigan State University