Opposition towards GM falling

CONSUMERS ARE ready to back genetically modified (GM) foods, but it depends on the crop and why it is being modified.


Some 58% of consumers would support wheat that is genetically modified to better resist aphids and thus reduces pesticide use, while just 15% wouldn’t. Similarly, 45% would be happy with a sugar beet that is modified to resist herbicides, while just 22% would be unsupportive.


However, the idea of GM carnations, or melons that have genes introduced to increase shelf-life would be a turn-off, according to a new poll by the British Science Association.


Over a quarter (27%) of those questioned, agree or strongly agree that the production of GM food should be encouraged, whilst 30% disagreed, or strongly disagreed with this sentiment. Almost a third (30%) agree that developing GM foods is wrong in principle.


However, by far the most common response was “neither agree nor disagree”; similarly   44% “don’t know” whether GM food is good for the UK economy. An even greater number expressed uncertainty over whether GM food is safe for future generations: 48% don’t know, whilst only 24% agree, and 27% disagree.


The findings come just a week after an online poll for Foodservice Footprint found there was overwhelming support in the sector for the debate on GM to be re-opened.


The British Science Associations poll created heated debate at a discussion panel set up as part of National Science & Engineering Week.


“There seems to have been a move away from the extremes, to the middle ground, with answers often being categorised as “don’t know”,” said Professor Joyce Tait, scientific advisor at the ESRC Innogen Centre. “I didn’t see that as a challenge to do more public engagement, rather I saw that to mean that it was becoming less contentious.”


Others disagreed. “The survey repeats questions people were first asked a decade ago. While that might be an interesting academic exercise, in practice the world has moved on in those ten years, to new areas of research and innovation, so it is a real throwback to focus on GM,” said Tom Macmillan from the Soil Association.


Rothamsted Research was recently granted approval from ACRE (the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) to undertake research of GM wheat modified to produce a pheromone that repels aphids. Its chief executive Maurice Moloney said the data are extremely helpful. “The survey suggests that the UK public is interested in the end uses and real benefits of GM technology, rather than harbouring blanket scepticism.”


However, he added that the large number of  ‘neither agree nor disagree’ answers suggests that “scientists still have much work to do in public engagement [especially] if the UK public are to benefit to the same extent as the 29 other countries who currently grow GM crops commercially”.


This month’s Foodservice Footprint will carry an in-depth analysis of GM.