Twenty-five Years Later, Consumers Are “Grossed Out” by GMO Foods

Photo:  Pexels

Photo: Pexels

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, October 2018
By Steven Hoffman

After nearly 25 years since the introduction of genetically engineered foods into the American diet – and despite the fact that nearly half of all U.S. cropland is dedicated to GMO agriculture – consumers have largely remained skeptical, even to the point of being “grossed out” by the idea, says Sidney Scott, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. Scott is lead author of a research paper titled “An Overview of Attitudes Toward Genetically Engineered Foods,” published in the August 2018 Annual Review of Nutrition.  

“In some contexts, people view nature and naturalness as sacred and genetically engineered food as a violation of naturalness,” the authors wrote. What the research overview doesn’t address, however, is why some consumers seem to be fine with heavily processed foods — Hamburger Helper, frozen microwave dinners, or maple-flavored “pancake syrup” — but cannot abide genetically engineered foods such as weed-resistant soybeans, vitamin A-enriched rice, or fast-growing salmon, reports the University of Washington’s The Source. “Consumers seem to be saying it’s not OK to poke into the DNA. That’s yucky,” Scott said. “People are grossed out by that.”

According to the study’s authors, the U.S. tends to have a permissive approach to regulating genetically modified crops and “generally recognizes them as safe.” The European Union, on the other hand, is more restrictive, allowing only two genetically engineered crops to be grown commercially: potatoes and maize. A key aim of the research team’s work was to expose the gap between advocates of genetically engineered foods and opponents, writes Food Dive. “What we’re trying to figure out now is what will allow people to reach a better consensus," said Scott. "I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”