Florida researchers conduct surveys on public acceptance of genetically modified crops

Whether the term is “GMO,” “genetically modified,” “gene editing” or the like, people in the general public distrust any word or phrase associated with the modification of food crops. To determine what the public knows and try to educate them, University of Florida researcher Brandon McFadden and three of his colleagues will use a new Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct focus groups and create educational materials.

McFadden and his team, University of Florida researchers Kevin Folta, Joy Rumble and Katie Stofer, will use the results of focus group surveys to prepare web-based national surveys. The surveys will try to gauge consumer preferences for regulations and consumption of gene-edited crops. Ultimately they will also help the team develop communication strategies and outreach materials.

“Most consumers don’t understand genetic improvement techniques, and gene editing is remarkably precise compared to traditional plant breeding and does not require DNA from another organism like most classical ‘GMO’ techniques,” McFadden said. “Consumers may be more willing to accept gene-edited foods if the subtle differences between the genetic technologies are properly explained.”

His project summary cites an example of a genetically-edited white button mushroom that was not regulated by USDA, raising concern among consumers. The product was not regulated because it had not been engineered using a donor organism. However, the public may not understand the difference in this technology and a genetically engineered organism.

Folta provided a few definitions of breeding terminology intended to help consumers understand the difference in breeding techniques:

  • Traditional breeding: Random cross-pollination between different plant types with the hope of producing a type of plant that contains many favorable traits.
  • Genetic engineering: The use of specific laboratory approaches to move the genetic code associated with specific traits to new organisms.
  • Gene editing: A precise technology where small, targeted genetic changes are created that emulate natural mutation.
  • GMO: An imprecise description given to any attempts to use DNA techniques to improve crops.

McFadden’s project summary is in the USDA Current Research Information System Database.

Source: Dr. Fred Fishel, University of Florida

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