Consumers don’t understand the difference between CRISPR and GMOs
Consumers still don’t understand the difference between genetic modification of foods and CRISPR, a technology that allows the editing of unwanted genes, a technology expert from the Seattle-based Hartman Group said last week in a report and online webinar called “The Future of Food Technology.”
“There’s less consumer knowledge of gene editing so it can be easily confused/conflated with genetic-engineering or genetic modification by the consumer,” said Shelley Balanko, the Hartman Group senior vice president for technology.
Scientists and agriculture leaders have been trying to convince consumers that even if they don’t like genetic modification or engineering of foods, they should accept the use of CRISPR because rather than insert a gene to achieve a change, CRISPR simply takes out genes to treat or prevent the spread of disease and increase crop yields.
Balanko said that 50% of consumers have a knowledge of genetic modification or bioengineering but only 30% understand CRISPR, which she discussed in the context of a consumer conflict between wanting more natural foods and also following the American inclination to expect technology to provide positive innovations.
Progressive consumers do want technology to find ways to meet nutritional needs with fewer resources like energy, water and carbon, Balanko said.
More and more consumers want to know if their food is produced through regenerative agriculture including attempts to sequester carbon in the soil through managed grazing, compost applications and tree planting, she explained.
Plant breeders who are focused on the taste of food rather than yield, shelf and uniformity “may be the new rock stars of the food world,” Balanko said. She noted that the New York chef Dan Barber is backing the Row7 seed company.
But CRISPR technology “may go too far” because it is linked to GMOS that led to concerns about glyphosate use, she said.Consumers, she said, ask whether the ends justify the means.
“We are well past the era of ‘If you build it, they will come,’ so innovations need to withstand the question ‘Do the ends justify the means?’,” she said.
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