While consumer opinion is split on the health and safety of food and food ingredients derived from genetic modification (GMOs), the majority of Canadians support labeling foods that contain GMOs, according to a recent survey by Dalhousie University.
Researchers at the university, led by Sylvain Charlebois, surveyed 1,046 Canadians in an effort to measure “attitudes towards genetic engineering in food, and assess trust toward food safety and the regulatory system in Canada.”
“We wanted to better understand how Canadians are coping with the biotechnology they find on their dinner plates,” says Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy in Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management, in a news release. “With genetically modified livestock (salmon) now available, we felt Canadians deserved a much broader conversation on what these changes mean to the average consumer.”
The study, titled “Biotechnology in Food: Canadian Attitudes towards Genetic Engineering in both Plant- and Animal-based Foods,” found that 70% of survey respondents strongly agreed that GMO food and ingredients should be labelled on all packages. But respondents were divided on whether GMO foods are safe: 37.7% believe them to be safe; 34.7% think they are not. While 35% believe that we understand the health effects of GMOs, more than 44% believe we do not.
The study shows many Canadians feel uncertain about what is in their food. 52% of respondents said they were “unsure” whether they had purchased GMO plant-based food and 55.5% were unsure whether they had purchased animal-based GMO food, according to the study.
The study also suggests that Canadians are concerned most about GMO fish and seafood, followed by pork, beef, poultry, and dairy. They are least concerned about GMO fruits and vegetables. “Canada is moving to a more plant-based diet, which will most likely involve more genetic engineering,” says Simon Somogyi from Dalhousie’s Faculty of Agriculture. “It’s heartening that the produce industry has the greatest level of trust with consumers.”
While the study points to concerns, GMO-free food isn’t necessarily the most important consideration on shoppers’ minds. Price, absence of hormones and antibiotics, nutritional content, familiarity with the product and location of production are still more important factors in purchasing decisions, according to the survey results.