Global Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods

by Morgan Beltz

Public perceptions of genetically modified foods are not generally the same in different regions of the globe and can help dictate the availability of GM products. Frewer et al. (2013) conduct a systematic meta-analysis of 70 journal articles published all over the world, between the years of 1994 and 2010, to compare risk and benefit perceptions of different global regions. The authors focused on papers including agriculture genetic modification. The papers then went through a coding process to detect the levels of risks and benefits presented. The continent results were compared to the mean values of European participants in 2008. The authors found that North America and Asia have a lower risk perception of GM foods than Europe. North America also has a higher benefit perception of GM foods than Europe, but Asia has a lower benefit perception.

Frewer et al. created a set of search terms that included GMO, attitudes, and public in some fashion. These terms were applied to online databases of journal articles. The search initially yielded 1638 papers that were then screened with an exclusion criteria to identify the relevant papers regarding consumer attitudes towards genetically modified foods. Papers were coded and weeded out depending on the references to human attitudes, main focus of the study, and sufficient data. This left 70 papers that were then rescreened with a dichotomous scale to rate the papers on intention, attitude, benefit perception, and risk perceptions related to GMOs. The authors note that one of the limitations to their study is the low number of studies from countries outside of North America and Europe. Africa, South America, and Australia each have fewer than five studies, making their data almost negligible. Asia had an adequate size data pool, but still less than half the size of these from Europe or North America, possibly because the authors only looked at papers written in English.

When broken down into specific GM applications—plants, animals, other applications—individuals are more likely to purchase GM plant products and other applications of GM than GM animals. However, when compared to the baseline of the Europe responses in 2008, North American and Asia are more likely to purchase GM animal products. North America and Asian participants saw more benefits and less risk of GM food products than Europeans, with the benefit and risk perceptions increasing each year. Ethical concerns were higher for North America and Asia, but decreased gradually over time. Overall, participants across the entire study had more positive attitudes towards GM plants and non-specific applications, and North America and Asia had more positive attitudes than Europe on the notion of GM products.

This study presents the interesting perspective that geographical location does make a difference in the public’s perception of genetically modified foods. Perceptions change depending on the available information and the research of individuals in the country. The authors believe that this information shows the need for increasing research in less developed countries outside Europe and North America to bring awareness of how GM products can help the food industry. They argue that it is important that the research be expanded going forward because public perception is a large part of approving GM products for human consumption. This study shows the importance of research regarding GMOs; it needs to be continued with better methods and reporting of results. Increased knowledge of the public perception of benefits and risks helps producers understand where they need to increase education base in order to increase production of GM foods.

Frewer, L., Van de Lans, I., Fischer, A., Reinders, M., Menozzi, D., Zhang, X., Van der Berg, I., Zimmermann, K., 2013. Public perceptions of agri-food applications of genetic modification–A systematic review and meta-analysis. Trends in Food Science and Technology 30, 142−152.

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