London (21.11.16) –
Many people, CropGen included, have for long had doubts about the claimed
antipathy of UK residents to GM foods.
It is certainly true that those against have, now for nearly twenty years, made a lot of noise in support of their ideas. A relatively small number of strongly opinionated letters in the early days certainly frightened UK supermarkets into taking care not to sell food products derived from or containing material of GM origin, a position which they have only comparatively recently begun to reverse (1, 2)
According to the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) (3), those strongly opposing the technology have gradually fallen from 17% in 2003 to 14% in 2014. However, individuals strongly supporting GM food remain at just 4% and most shoppers are still undecided: 44% neither support nor oppose GM foods and a further 38% express only a mild positive or negative opinion. The great majority do not seem not to care very much one way or the other.
Indeed, the range and proportion of views has been fairly constant since around 2003 when the Institute of Grocery Distribution found that “GM currently appears to making little difference to consumers shopping patterns. Instead, most are showing a passive acceptance of GM food” (4):
- Just over one in ten (13%) consumers said they actively avoid foods with GM ingredients.
- The same proportion (13%) said they would welcome these products on the supermarkets shelves.
- Three quarters of consumers (74%) are not sufficiently concerned about GM food actively to avoid it. It is not seen as a priority when compared with aspects of purchase decision.
It was therefore hardly su[rising to read in the recent Bayer/Populus report (5) that attitudes have softened significantly over the last two years. In a poll of 2,000 people carried out by Populus for the agrochemical company Bayer Crop Science, two-thirds of respondents said that they would support GM food so long as it did not harm public health or the environment. Fifty-four per cent said that they agreed with the crops in principle and a further 10% said they were the only way to feed a growing global population. Only a minoity (27%) said that they could not countenance the method. After all this time, all the evidence and all the arguments in favour, one cannot help wondering why.
As the UK hopefully moves towards a sensible attitude to GM post-Brexit, we may find a not unwilling population largely ready to accept such an official position and – with luck – be served by a grocery retail sector which provides the appropriate foods for sale.
1. More steps forward and none back. CropGen (6.9.13) (http://www.cropgen.org/article_500.html)
2. Follow my leader. CropGen (12.3.14) (http://www.cropgen.org/article_519.html)
3. Consumer attitudes to GM foods. Changes in shopper understanding and perception from 2008 to 2014. Institute of Grocery Distribution (undated) (http://www.igd.com/Research/Shopper-Insight/Consumer-attitudes-to-GM-foods/)
4. Angela Groves (August 2003). Report Series Consumer Watch - GM Food. Institute of Grocery Distribution
5. Crop Science & Agriculture Survey. Populus (2.10.16) (http://www.populus.co.uk/polls/)