We are less skeptical of genetic engineering than we expected

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Swiss consumers often hear that they want agriculture to be free of genetic engineering. But consumer acceptance of GM crops is likely to be higher than the media makes us believe, says Angela Bears.

The ban on GM crops in Switzerland is expected to end later this year. There are plans to extend it four times, and modern genome editing will remain banned under the extended moratorium. As a result, this tool, which holds great promise for plant cultivation, continues to be as tightly regulated as traditional genetic engineering.People in favor of such strict regulations often insist on it consumer Anyway, I reject genetically modified crops. However, this argument is not always upheld under close scrutiny.

Moratorium proponents often cite old studies that focus on early methods of genetic engineering or derive results from inadequate data.Many claims refer to an annual survey conducted by the Federal Bureau of Statistics to support the low argument. Consumer acceptance, for example. In it, consumers share their views on the dangers of genetic engineering to food production.according to Investigation result, Genetically modified foods are recognized as dangerous as biodiversity loss, synthetic pesticides and climate change.

Our perception depends on the situation

We cannot draw conclusions from the isolated question that consumers are fundamentally rejecting genetic engineering. Separated from the technical context, the focus on danger obscures other aspects that may affect acceptance. Risk studies have shown that humans are willing to accept a limited degree of uncertainty when they can see personal or social benefits.

As a psychologist, I want to understand how people deal with complex topics and make decisions. I study many topics from the natural sciences and collaborate with other disciplines. People often underestimate the task of entering a good survey on the acceptance of existing or new technologies. As part of this, there are evidence-based principles that can provide valid and relevant answers.

Ask questions without affecting the answer

The first principle is to express the question in a way that does not suggest a particular answer. Asking someone’s perception of the risks of genetic engineering means that there are risks involved. This encourages, for example, extreme answers rather than neutral questions about someone’s personal opinion.

The second principle is that respondents need to understand the content of their comments. Psychology shows that people tend to rely on heuristic methods, simple rules of thumb when faced with uncertain decisions. Those who know little about the topic allow it to be guided by the association. When asked if they prefer regular or genetically modified potatoes, most people choose “normal” potatoes. This is because the concept of genetic engineering makes vague discomfort, and you can imagine “Frankenstein’s potatoes” from the Internet.

Lack of meaningful data

A valid assessment of Switzerland’s attitude towards genetic engineering requires new social science data to justify the complexity of the problem. Significant scientific and social progress has been made since voters embraced the anti-GMO initiative in 2005.

The new genome editing technology is far more accurate than the genetic engineering done in the 2000s. They have the potential to grow crop varieties that are resistant to disease and climate effects without introducing foreign DNA into the genetic material of the plant. During that time, the feared risks of GM plants have not been demonstrated. Many researchers are now seeking case-by-case evaluation of new varieties based on their unique characteristics rather than cultivation methods.

In addition, a new generation of consumers is showing far greater openness to innovative solutions in agriculture. In the face of modern urgent problems such as pesticide use, climate change and species extinction, we can imagine that society is more open to new technologies.

Start a new discussion

A study on the acceptance of various solutions to the potato plague presented participants with four measures to protect or tolerate potatoes: synthetic bactericide infusion, copper treatment, and wild potato gene transfer (genome engineering). ) Or modification of the genetic material of cultivated potatoes (genome editing). Result: Most people preferred genetic engineering.

Of course, it cannot be concluded from this one study that the Swiss population is broadly in agreement with genetic engineering. But the result is Genetic engineering It’s much more complicated than the media makes us believe.

It is irresponsible and patronizing to flatly rule out the idea that consumers may be open to well-studied technologies. When we ask people the right questions, we receive the right answers.

Why Genome Editing Provides a Targeted Way to Grow Better Crop

For more information:
Rita Saleh et al, How Chemophobia Affects Agricultural Pesticide Use and Public Acceptance of Biotechnology Food quality and taste (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.foodqual.2021.104197

Quote: We are more genetically engineered than the assumption (September 14, 2021) obtained from https: // on September 14, 2021. Not skeptical

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We are less skeptical of genetic engineering than we expected

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