1.1 Perception of GM foods in the UK
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2010), nearly one billion people suffered from hunger in 2010, representing nearly 16% of the population of developing countries. At the same time, the world population is growing and global warming threatens the production of crops. Profound changes are needed in the way that food production and food consumption are perceived, or the world may face mass starvation. Genetically modified (GM) technology has been found capable of feeding the world but there are concerns regarding its safety (Moseley 2002, Carpenter 2010). Consumer acceptance of GM foods in the UK remains relatively low compared to other developed countries, and exposes larger issues regarding public trust in science and the role of government in policymaking (Moon and Balasubramanian 2001). There are also socio-economic factors that impact public perception of GM foods; people with limited incomes may be more prone to accept GM foods as these are more affordable than non-GM foods, and others have concerns over the impact of GM agriculture on the environment (Moon and Balasubramanian 2001). However, studies have shown that in addition to the benefits of agro-biotechnology to the farmer of increased crop yields, herbicide tolerance and pest resistance in GM crops also represent a benefit to the environment through the reduced use of pesticides,
Perceptions and attitudes formed within a consumer social framework may differ from those shaped within a provider social framework. The focus of this research is to see how the diverse societies in Medway differ in perceptions and attitudes towards GM foods.
1.2 Primary Objective of the Study
The primary objective of this study is to determine attitudes and perceptions of consumers and gatekeepers towards GM foods in Medway.
2. Literature review
2.1. Definition of GM products and foods
Genetically modified organisms (GMO) are plants, animals, or bacteria that have been modified by genetic engineering techniques in a process that inserts selected genes into the DNA of the target species (de Vendomois et al. 2010). GMOs have been bio-engineered as agricultural, pharmaceutical, or bioremediation goods and services. Agricultural GMOs are GM foods or feed for human or livestock consumption, pharmaceutical GMOs deliver medicines or vaccines, and bioremediation GMOs are used for environmental clean-ups. All the genes used to modify crops are derived from microorganisms, whereas many of the genes used to modify pharmaceutical GMOs are derived from humans.
Genetic modification can affect the cellular and molecular makeup of the organism, and has thus raised public safety concerns and environmental issues associated with GMO products in general and GM foods in particular (Dona and Arvanitoyannis 2009). Of special concern, are GM foods such as soy and maize that have been modified to tolerate herbicides or to produce the bacterial toxin Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which may pose a risk to health, due to insertional mutagenesis, metabolic effects, or pesticide residues (de Vendomois et al. 2010); and in fact, Bt toxin has been detected in the circulating blood serum of pregnant women and their fetuses (Ares and Leblanc 2011), although studies have yet to determine its medical significance.
Safety concerns over GM foods have also been validated by animal toxicity studies that show that certain GM foods may have a toxic effect on a variety of organs, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, as well as the reproductive system (Dona and Arvanitoyannis 2009). Another animal trial in rats tested the effects of three of the top strains of GM maize sold in the market (NK 603, MON 810, and MON 863) and found that each of the GM maize strains produced serious side effects that were sex- and dose-dependent (de Vendomois et al. 2009). It came as no surprise that the kidneys and liver were the organs that were most affected, as these are the dietary detoxifying organs of the body; however, other organs were also affected, most notably the heart, as well as the haematopoietic system. The different patterns of toxicity of each GM maize strain may be attributed to the different pesticide profiles of the strains. Whereas there have been no clinical studies on the effect of GM food consumption on the human body, the results of these animal studies suggest that GM foods may pose a health risk to humans. Another issue concerns the potentially harmful effect of GM foods on the immune response system; in particular, there is concern that GM foods might induce allergic hypersensitivity. Prescott and Hogan (2006) used a BALB/c mouse model to test the potential allergenicity of a number of GM plants and found alterations in antigenicity that could lead to allergic reactions if consumed. In contrast, a clinical study by Lee et al. (2006) compared the allergenecity of GM potatoes with that of wild-type potatoes, in 1886 adult allergy patients sensitized to potatoes, and found no difference in sensitization rates (5.7% for both) between GM and wild-type potatoes, suggesting that genetic modification does not increase the risk of allergenecity in potatoes. These results correlate with those of a separate study by Kim et al. (2006), where analysis of the allergic risk of GM soybeans in 1,716 adult allergy patients yielded identical IgE sensitization rates for wild-type and GM soybean extracts.
2.2 Historical development of GM Foods.
2.2.1 Bioengineering and agriculture
In 1994, the United States Department of Agriculture approved the sale of the first GM crop meant for human consumption, the Flavr Savr tomato, bio-engineered for a longer shelf life (Kramer and Redenbaugh 1994). It was not a commercial success. The focus turned towards the design of GM crops that had one of three basic traits: resistance to insect damage, resistance to viral infections, or tolerance towards certain herbicides. All GM crops available on the international market today have one of these traits. Biotech plants resistant to herbicides were quickly favoured by farmers, and now represent the bulk of GM crop production (Fig. 1, ISAAA 2010).
In 1996, the Roundup Ready soybean became the first herbicide resistant GM crop (Kishore and Shewmaker 1999); and, by 2005, 60% of the soybeans grown around the world were genetically modified (Marshall 2007). GM soybeans offer several advantages to farmers, including easier weed management, no restrictions on crop rotations, and lower costs (Kishore and Shewmaker 1999). In 2009, that figure rose to 77% (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA 2010); while GM cotton, maize, and canola accounted for 49%, 26%, and 21% of the total global production of crops, respectively (Fig. 2, ISAAA 2010).
The overall global adoption rates for GM crops increased by 10% in 2010, and now over 30% of all corn and canola grown in the world are GM variants that have been modified to resist disease, insects, and extreme weather or soil conditions (Carpenter 2010), clearly underscoring the impact of biotechnology on agriculture. Moreover, this impact is widespread; after a slow start, nearly 50% of the roughly 150 million hectares devoted to GM crops around the world are now found in developing countries, mainly in developing and transitional countries in South America (Fig. 3, ISAAA 2011). However, in the African continent, South Africa is the only country with significant bio-agricultural concerns.
The New World dominates biotech agriculture. The U.S.A. remains the country with the largest area of agricultural land devoted to GM crops, with 69 million hectares allotted to GM soybean, maize, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya, and squash (ISAA 2011). Brazil and Argentina, together account for 54 million hectares of soybean, maize, and cotton. Canada is also a big player in the production of GM crops, growing10.4 million hectares of canola, maize, soybeans, and sugar beets. Outside the New World, China and South Africa are the largest producers of GM foods, at 3.9 and 2.3 million hectares, respectively. Oddly enough, China is not a major producer of maize or soybeans, instead growing cotton, papaya, poplar, tomato, and sweet pepper. India and Pakistan are also major producers, but neither country focuses on GM foods; their major GM crop is cotton, and both countries together account for 13.2 million hectares, representing a substantial percentage of the total world market for cotton. Table 1 lists the top ten producers of GM crops in the world and their major crops (ISAAA 2011).
In the EU, the only countries that are growing pest-resistant GM corn are Spain and Germany; although, after extensive consideration, the UK did at one point approve a herbicide-tolerant maize (Breithaupt 2004). However, Bayer CropScience, the biopharmaceutical that was to oversee the programme, could not bring the plan to fruition due to the strict agricultural restrictions imposed by the British Government, which rendered the plan economically untenable (Breithaupt).
126.96.36.199 Medicines and vaccines
In 1998, Ventria Bioscience got the approval of the USDA to conduct biogenetic experiments in California to create a GM rice variety that would help cure infectious diarrhea, a disease that kills over 2 million children every year in the poorest nations of the world (Bethell and Huang 2004). The new rice was to be genetically modified to produce lactoferrin and lysozyme, two proteins normally found in mother’s milk. Lactoferrin is a natural antibiotic and boosts the immune system, while lysozyme neutralizes bacteria. Ventria planned to create the new rice by inserting human genes into the DNA of the rice, creating a rice-human transgenic organism to be grown in biopharms (a term that combines the words pharmaceuticals and farms). This transgenic rice was not bioengineered as a GM food for direct human consumption, but rather as a vehicle for the delivery of biochemicals for therapeutic use; the rice is to be used in the preparation of an oral rehydration solution rich in lactoferrin and lysozymes, to be then administered to the ailing child.
Fruits have also been bioengineered for the delivery of medications and vaccines. Scientists have inserted genes into bananas to produce vaccines for hepatitis B (Sala et al. 2003) and into muskmelons to incorporate a rabies vaccine. Tobacco has also been modified to produce large amounts of an anthrax vaccine quickly, cheaply, and safely (Sala et al. 2003). But the real issue here is not the safety of any one of these GMOs as a therapeutic agent, but rather the risk of their ending up in the market as foods meant for human consumption.
In 2000, scientists in California created super rice, a rice that could outgrow any other rice by 35%, and another rice variant called golden rice, with 23 times the amount of vitamin A found in regular rice (Bajaj and Mohanty 2005). This rice was also developed to improve nutrition in developing countries. However, that same year, taco shells sold at a supermarket chain were found to have been made from GM corn meant for livestock (Dorey 2000). The contamination led to worldwide panic; and in 2004, the California Department of Agriculture forced Ventria Bioscience to stop its transgenic experiments for fear that Japan would stop its exports of California rice (Bethell and Huang 2004). Things got worse. In 2007, small amounts of GM rice appeared in other parts of the U.S. in food supplies meant for human consumption (Clapp 2008). With this news, the EU pulled all its U.S. rice imports off the market (Headey and Fan 2008), and Japan announced that it would test every single shipment of U.S. rice imports for evidence of genetic modification (Headey and Fan 2008).
2.3 GM food regulation and legislation
People worry about the safety of food, as food is not always safe. Some foods are inherently hazardous, like fugu fish, ackee fruit, and cassava. Others, like peanuts and nuts, can induce potentially fatal allergic reactions in susceptible people; and, any food can become dangerous when contaminated with toxins, whether chemical (e.g., mercury), biochemical (e.g., aflatoxin), or biological (e.g., mycotoxins) (McHughen 2012). Because of this, most countries have established food safety regulations to protect the public. Nevertheless, scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year 76 million people become ill from contaminated food in the United States, 325,000 need to be hospitalized, and 5,000 die (Mead 1999). Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma account for 30% of these deaths (Mead 1999). Moreover, a study by Rayner and Scarborough (2005) found that, notwithstanding the strict regulatory guidelines under The Food Hygiene (England) Regulations (Department of Health 1995 in FSA 2000), food related illness accounts for about 10% of morbidity and mortality in the United Kingdom, representing one million illnesses, 20,000 hospitalizations, and 500 deaths (FSA 2000). The main pathogens responsible for food poisoning in the UK are Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella (FSA 2000). Although the relative incidence of food related illness is significantly lower in the UK than in the US, there was a sharp rise in notification reports of food poisoning in the UK, from 20,000 reports in 1986 to 100,000 reports in 2000, representing a five-fold increase in the incidence of food poisoning within a span of but 15 years (Fig. 4, food.gov.uk). In the same period, Campylobacter cases in the UK tripled from roughly 20,000 to 60,000 cases, while Salmonella cases doubled from 1986 to 1997, when they began to drop down to1986 levels. The pattern of Salmonella related illnesses may be explained in part by the 1986 outbreak of Salmonella poisoning due to the consumption of infected eggs.
Thus, it stands to reason that governmental agencies responsible for food safety in the EU and the UK should approach the introduction of GM foods into the consumer market with extreme caution, for if “natural foods” are proving to be so dangerous and even fatal, there is no telling the health risks of GM foods. It was at the very peak of enteric food poisoning outbreaks in the UK that the EU passed the Novel Food Regulation (EC) 258/97. The Regulation defined novel foods as “food products and food ingredients that have not been used for human consumption to a significant degree within the European Community before 15 May 1997,” thus the Regulation covered novel non-GM foods, like the cacti Hylocereus undatus (Haw.) Britton & Rose, as well as GM foods and products (Peltonen, n.d.). In 2001, the Medway Council passed a resolution to ban the use of GM foods in meals provided to schoolchildren and to the elderly in Medway (Meeting of Medway Council 2005). This policy was not formalized into law; however, catering contracts for community meals had a provision against GM foods and products. But there is more to the story, for in 2005, when the number of overall food poisonings in England and Wales had seen a significant drop, particularly in South East England (Fig. 5, HPA 2010)—with the number of Salmonella poisoning decreasing to roughly a third of their numbers in 1997 (Table 2, HPA 2010 in Chartered Institute of Environmental Health n.d.)—the Council met again to discuss the status of the Medway Council’s policy on GM foods, suggesting that health concerns over GM foods go beyond overall food safety concerns; concerns that increased after it was found at the 2005 meeting that the original catering contract for school meals was re-let in 2002, because the supplier could not guarantee that all its meals would be GM food and product free. Moreover, although the new contract with the new supplier stated that no GM foods or products were to be used in the preparation of community meals in Medway, members of the Council expressed great displeasure over the lack of any formally established oversight procedures to ensure there were no contract violations, thus it is not entirely clear to the Medway Council whether community meals in Medway are in fact GM food and product free.
Food legislation is usually drafted in response to an incident, like an illness or a death, but the United Kingdom is unique in that in 1978 it passed the first legislation in the world controlling genetic modification (MacKenzie 2000), 16 years before the Flavr Savr tomato and 14 years before GM soybeans first appeared on the market (Kishore and Shewmaker 1999). However, current GM food safety legislation in the UK is derived from EU regulations, and the UK now follows the GM Food and Feed Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003; and the GMO and GM Food Traceability and Labelling Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2003, amending Directive 2001/18/EC on Traceability and Labelling (Official Journal of the European Union 2003a and 2003b).
2.3.1 Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003: GM Product regulations
Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 (“the Regulation,” official EU designation) was enacted in 2004 by the European Union to regulate GM food and feed (Report 2006). Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 controls the release of GMO food or feed into the market, as well as food products that contain GMOs. These new guidelines are stricter than previous guidelines and supplement the Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 guidelines for the tracing and labeling of GMOs. The Regulation is wide in scope and covers any GMO in any form or use connected to any food or feed; i.e., it covers not only the GM food itself, but also any other food that may contain a GM food ingredient, or has been produced from a GM food. That is, it covers (1) GMOs as food or feed, (2) food and feed with GMOs, and (3) food and feed produced from or having ingredients produced form GMOs. For example, corn flour made from GM maize, or a drink sweetened with corn syrup made from GM maize, would be considered GM food under the Regulation.
2.3.2 Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003: Import regulations
Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 also applies to GMO imports, which stipulates that importers of GMO products must follow the import guidelines under Regulation (EC) No 178/2002. No discrimination is to be made between EU and third country imports.
An evaluation of the Regulation found three cases of unauthorized GMO imports into the EU, all from the USA, including GM papaya from Hawaii, unauthorised GM maize Bt10 labeled as authorized Bt11, and a shipment of authorized rice contaminated with unauthorised GM rice LL601 (Report 2006). The maize and the rice were imported from the USA into the EU by mistake, but the mistakes were immediately reported to the proper EU authorities. The three cases prove that regardless of strict guidelines, unauthorised GM products can still end up in the EU common market. But the three cases also prove the willingness of GMO producers, exporters, and importers, to act quickly in response to accidental importation of unauthorized GMOs and help ensure the integrity of the regulatory system (Report 2006).
2.3.3 GMO food and feed labeling
188.8.131.52 Article 8 Regulation (EC) 258/97
In 1997, the EU enacted the first legislation to regulate the labeling of GMOs under Article 8 Regulation (EC) 258/97, which controls novel foods and novel food ingredients. Article 8 mandates that foods and feed must be labeled as GM food or feed if either (1) the product consists of a GMO, or contains a GMO; or (2) the product was originally derived from a GMO, but no longer has any GMO, yet the product contains remnants of DNA or protein from the GMO of origin. An example of this last labeling requirement is food produced through the fermentation of a GMO product, like beer. In addition, the European Parliament passed other legislation to regulate GM products that did not fall under Article 8 Regulation (EC) 258/97. In 1998, the EU enacted Regulation (EC) 1139/98 to control the labeling of certain foodstuffs that were produced from GM maize or GM soy. In 2000, the EU enacted Regulation (EC) 50/2000 to regulate food additives and food flavourings derived from GMOs. EU Council Directive 90/220/EEC regulates the labeling of feed, and EU Council Directive 98/95/EEC regulates GM seeds.
184.108.40.206 Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003: Traceability and labeling
In 2003, the EU enacted Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 to replace Article 8 Regulation (EC) 258/97. Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 was drafted to regulate the traceability and labeling of GMO food and feed and the traceability of food and feed made from GMOs (Official Journal of the European Union 2004). Article 13 of Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003 stipulates that any food product that has more than 0.9% GM product as its components must have a label referring to its presence. There are few food products in the EU market that carry a GM label, but the sale of products that do carry the label has not been affected by Article 13 of the Regulation. Compliance with Article 13 of the Regulation across the EU has been high, random analyses of food products in the market showed that less than 2% of unlabeled samples were found to contain more than 0.9% of a GM product. In contrast, the labeling of feed is common, mainly due to the large amounts of GM soy used in compound feed. Non-compliance with Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 across the EU is 6% for feed.
220.127.116.11.1 “May contain GMO” labels
There is at present a practice across the EU of using “may contain GMO” labels on GM products in violation of both Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003. The regulations require explicit wording in the labeling of food and feed that contain GM products. These types of labels are sometimes used to label feed.
18.104.22.168.2 “Does not contain GMO” labels
There is also a practice of using “does not contain GMO” labels on certain products, in violation of Articles12 and 24 of the Regulation, which stipulate the types of GM food and feed that must be labeled. The issue with unauthorized use of “does not contain GMO” labels is that often these labels are used in food categories that to date have not been genetically modified, thus the use of these labels can be misleading, for the customer would be led to believe that a product labeled “does not contain GMO” is special, and motivate the customer to purchase the product for that reason alone. This practice also violates Directive 2000/13/EC, relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs within the EU. The purpose of drafting legislation requiring the labeling of food products is to provide the customer with the information necessary to make an informed decision regarding the food the customer is to consume. “Does not contain GMO” labels are used to label food made for human consumption.
2.4 Risk assessment of GM foods
2.4.1 Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 assessment of risk: Authorization
Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 serves two purposes, (1) to authorize the release of GMO food products under the provisions of Directive 2001/18/EC controlling the release of GMOs into the environment, and (2) to provide a means of assessment and risk management (Official Journal of the European Union (2003a). Once a GMO has been authorized, it can be released as food, feed, or for cultivation; however, before it is authorised an application for its released must be submitted to the European Food Safety Authority, which will then assess the risk of the new GMO in the food sector, and then pass on the responsibility of risk management to the Commission. The Commission in turn submits a draft to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health recommending whether the GMO should be placed in the market place or not (Official Journal of the European Union (2003a). If the GMO is held to pose no risk to health or the environment and is thereby authorized, it still must be re-evaluated every 10 years.
2.4.2 Consumer assessment of risk: GM versus Non-GM foods
According to Shaw (2002), the average British consumer’s perception of GM foods is that it goes against the grain. Moseley (2002) also evaluated the perception of Europeans of GM foods and found that despite there being no evidence of harm from the consumption of biotech foods, the market for GM foods in the EU is negligible compared to demands in the United States and other parts of the world. Another consumer survey conducted by Moon and Balasubramanian (2001) comparing the perception of GM foods in the UK and the United States (US) supports the work by Moseley (2002). Moon and Balasubramanian evaluated the correlation between people’s perceptions of the risks and benefits of GM foods and their readiness to pay more for non-GM foods, and found that UK consumers were much more ready than US consumers to pay a higher price to avoid eating GM foods (56% versus 37%), and that their readiness to pay more correlated with how they judged the relative risk to benefit outcome. Of interest, the risk and benefit perceptions were not limited to concerns about the potential harm to health but included issues related to environmental hazards, moral and ethical considerations, the potential of reducing the burden of worldwide hunger, reduced use of pesticides in agriculture, nutritional content, and the negative perception of multinational GM food corporations as the real winners in the game of biotechnology. UK consumers were much more concerned than US consumers about the negative effect of the use of biotechnology in farming (65% versus 30%). In addition, the majority of UK consumers (71%) thought that major corporations reaped the benefits while passing on the risks to the consumer. Overall, UK consumers were much more concerned than US consumers with the issues surrounding GM foods. Table 3 summarizes the results from the study by Moon and Balasubramanian (2001).
Moon and Balasubramanian 2001
The tighter guidelines for GM food and feed under Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 and Regulation (EC) No 1830/2003) reflect the current trend of public opinion of GM foods. Nevertheless, UK customers remain skeptical of governmental oversight of food safety (Table 4, Moon and Balasubramanian 2001) and prefer to rely on their own personal assessment of risk, notwithstanding their lack of knowledge and understanding.
In contrast, Garkell et al. (2004) contend that it is the perceived absence of benefits and not the assessment of risks that accounts for the low index of acceptance of GM foods by the European public. The authors reviewed the results of an earlier study where they used the Eurobarometer survey on biotechnology (EB52.1) to ask 1000 respondents in each of 17 European countries their opinions on whether each of seven biotechnologies was (1) useful (an index of benefit), (2) risky (an index of risk), and (3) morally acceptable (an index of support) (Garkell et al. 2000). GM food was one of the biotechnologies included in the survey. Results of the survey indicate that benefit perception played a larger role than risk perception in the assessment of GM foods, though risk perception appeared to modulate the perception of benefit (Fig.6, Gaskell 2004). Of the total sample of 17,000 respondents, 18% perceived both risks and benefits associated with GM foods, of whom 52% expressed acceptance of GM foods; 14% perceived benefits with no associated risks, with 81% acceptance; 62% perceived risks but no benefits, with 83% rejection; while a minor group of 6% perceived neither risk nor benefit of GM foods.
Acceptance of GM foods
In the next phase of their analyses, Garkell et al. (2004) examined the different backgrounds and frames of reference of the respondents in each of the first three groups, to determine which factors associated with their relative perceptions of the risks and benefits of GM foods. Five variables were selected for analysis: trust, scientific knowledge, technological optimisms, education, and gender. The results showed that the group that failed to perceive any benefit of GM foods had the lowest trust, least scientific knowledge, and were pessimistic about technology, whereas the group that failed to perceive any risks associated with GM foods had the highest trust, most scientific knowledge, and were optimistic about technology, suggesting that people bring different cognitive resources to their assessment of the risks and benefits of GM foods. Nevertheless, the results also strongly suggest that efforts to lower the perception of risk while raising the perception of benefits of GM foods may lead to wider acceptance of GM foods in European countries, including the UK.
2.5 Factors affecting consumer perception of GM foods
Lusk and Coble (2005) conducted a risk analysis study and found that consumers were willing to pay a higher price for food labeled “GM free” even when they lacked any understanding of its risks or benefits; moreover, they were willing to pay even higher prices for foods labeled “organic” without proof that these products were any safer, indicating a predisposition against GM foods and in favor of organic non-GM foods. However, Huffman et al. (2004) found that such predispositions tend not to be strongly grounded; thus, if the perceived risk of GM is low, a drop in price might sway some customers to buy GM foods over non-GM foods; the reverse would also hold true.
Moreover, there is also a strong cultural component at play; McClusket et al. (2003) found that 86% of Japanese consumers are not willing to buy GM foods even at half the price, underscoring the general aversion to GM foods in the Japanese population. In contrast, in the USA, 30% of customers were willing to pay 15% more for pesticide-free GM foods (Hamilton, Sunding and Zilberman 2003), in agreement with an earlier study by Boccaletti and Moro (2000), who found that Italians were willing to purchase (WTP) GM foods associated with lower use of pesticides (Table 5, Boccaletti and Moro 2000). This last study is of particular interest as it underscores the complexities of public perception of GM foods. The study consisted of a survey of public knowledge and attitude towards GM foods and found that although 82.5% of respondents (N=200) reported insufficient knowledge of biotechnology in general and GM foods in particular they nevertheless rated their attitude towards GM foods as high, with 46% of respondents rating their attitude as positive, and only 27.5% rating their attitude as negative. Of interest, both groups cited health and environmental issues as influencing their responses.
In addition, all factors being equal, 39.5% had no preference for either GM or non-GM foods, and 22% reported they would pay even slightly higher prices for GM foods, given the circumstances. The willingness to buy GM foods increased when certain mitigating factors were considered: lower pesticide use, increased nutritional value, improved organoleptic characteristics, and longer shelf life. Table 4 shows a significant increase in the WTP of GM foods across all parameters. Lower use of pesticides and improved nutritional value had the greatest influence on their WTP.
2.6 Impact of GM crops.
2.6.1 Economic benefits
Brooks and Barfoot (2004) evaluated the global economic and environmental impact of GM crops from 1996 to 2004 and estimated a substantial increase in economic benefits to farmers, amounting to a total of $19 billion (Table 6, Brooks and Barfoot 2004). The largest increase in farm income was seen for GM herbicide tolerant (HT) soybeans, amounting to $9.3 billion, followed by GM insect resistant (IR) cotton at $5.7 billion. GM IR maize accounted for $5.7 billion increase in farm income. These gains represent a substantial amount in crop yields coupled with substantial decrease in costs. The largest impact was by GM HT soybeans in Argentina, GM IR cotton in China, and a range of GM crops in the United States. Developing countries such as South Africa, Paraguay, India, and Mexico also experienced an unprecedented increase in crop yields with corresponding economic benefits, strongly suggesting that biotechnology has had a significant and beneficial impact on agriculture and economic growth, at least in certain parts of the world.
2.6.2 Environmental benefits
The impact of any factor on the environmental is very difficult to analyse for it requires value judgments concerning the overall effect of a particular environmental change; also, some factors affect the environment directly, like pesticides, while others have an indirect effect on the environment, like an organism that suffers genetic mutations within the altered environment and then migrates to another environment (Barton and Dracup 2000).
The impact of GM crop production also needs to be analyzed within the context of non-GM crop production, because it too can have a significant impact on the environment; again, like pesticides, both traditional and biotechnical agricultural practices use pesticides, but bio-agriculture uses significantly less (Dale 2002). In the time period between 1996 and 2004, biotechnology has reduced the use of pesticides by 172 million kg, and the environmental footprint associated with agricultural pesticides by 14% (Brooks and Barfoot 2004). There has also been a significant reduction in the level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural practices, equivalent to the emissions of five million motor vehicles (Brooks and Barfoot 2004).
Barton and Dracup (2000) suggest that a comprehensive analysis of the effect of GM crops on the environment must consider four critical factors: (1) the effect on human health, (2) the effect on nontarget organisms, (3) potential for gene escape to another species, and (4) the probability that a crop may become an agricultural weed. Even then, the results of a particular evaluation cannot be extrapolated to other environments because each environment is different and the impact of a specific factor may vary widely according to environment. In addition, a prior record with no ill effects should not lead to complacency, and the cumulative impact of GM crops on the environment must undergo periodic assessment. The authors also suggest that the public should have access to environmental impact records, to foster public understanding of the risks and benefits of GM crop production. Moreover, information on the environmental impact of GM crop production should be coupled with information on the environmental impact of traditional agricultural practices, so that the consumer may appreciate the benefits to the environment of GM crops over traditional non-GM crops.
2.6.3 Poverty and Hunger
The real issue is the impact of GM foods on world hunger. A comparison between the global prevalence of undernourishment in 1990-1992 to that in 2006-2008 shows a significant decline in the prevalence of undernourishment since the introduction of GM crops (Fig. 7 and Fig. 8, FAO 2010). However, as the figures also illustrate, certain countries within the continent of Africa have yet to benefit. There is enough food to feed the world (FAO 2010), but the problem is getting this food into the mouths of those who need it most. The global community needs to develop programmes that channel more GM foods into these areas.
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