Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes it seems that when we eat, guilt is always on the menu.
That reminds me of another saying: Guilt is the mother of invention.
That’s why so many biotech scientists are trying to create food that’s guilt-free. We’ve already used biotechnology to improve some of our most basic crops, such as corn and soybeans. But most of the immediate benefits have accrued to producers, who have seen their yields go up along with the environmental benefits.
What’s coming is good news for consumers–though many people don’t often see the link between what happens on the farm and the purchases they make when they shop in grocery stores. Large numbers of them aren’t even aware of how biotechnology has revolutionized agriculture in the United States and around the world.
That’s going to change soon, and consumers will come to embrace biotechnology. A recent survey conducted by North Dakota State University scholars Cheryl Wachenheim and William Lesch proves the point. They conducted phone interviews with more than 400 North Dakota consumers to gauge their attitudes about biotechnology.
It should surprise nobody that many respondents didn’t know much. Although controversies over biotechnology are in our newspapers constantly, few in the survey could describe what GM foods actually are. Moreover, large numbers did not know which products were most affected by genetic modification. Only 6 percent thought that soy products contained genetically enhanced ingredients, even though 85 percent of all the soybeans grown in the United States have been improved through biotechnology.
These results are entirely consistent with other polling data. The simple truth is that Americans don’t know much about biotechnology.
But they do like it, especially when they come to understand its benefits in real-world terms. Among North Dakotans, for instance, nearly 80 percent said they would choose a hypothetical variety of pasta that has been genetically modified over ordinary pasta, so long as the GM pasta contained extra vitamins and minerals. A majority also said it would prefer pasta that’s been genetically enhanced to have better taste as well as pasta that’s been genetically enhanced to include zinc that helps prevent head colds.
In short, if biotechnology can give folks a reason to lose the guilt when they sit down to eat, it will win widespread public acceptance.
The survey also showed a high level of support for biotechnology’s altruistic applications. Seventy-two percent endorsed grain genetically modified to improve nutrition in poor countries. More than 60 percent favored GM foods to help diabetics as well as wheat with vitamin A to combat blindness. Nearly half agreed that “unjustified fears have seriously blocked development of GM foods.”
This is an indisputable fact. The fears about biotechnology definitely are unjustified–there isn’t a scrap of evidence anywhere suggesting that the biotech foods now on the market are anything but perfectly healthy to eat. Yet fears about biotechnology certainly have blocked the development of new foods. In Europe, fear-mongers invoke the bogeyman of “Frankenfoods” to keep regulators from approving biotech products that are commonly eaten in the United States.
Those of us who support agricultural biotechnology here in North Dakota were disappointed with Monsanto’s decision a few months ago to shelve its plans for a form of wheat that’s been genetically modified to resist herbicide. There were no health concerns about the product.
What’s more, the recent cold snap we just endured–a lot of my neighbors are feeling blue over how their beautiful crops have sustained frost damage–demonstrates that we need to look to biotechnology for more solutions. How about crops that can survive a frost or are more tolerant to cool weather like this summer in North Dakota?
Yet there was no shortage of false impressions about GM wheat. Monsanto ultimately made a marketing decision, based on its belief that consumers would have resisted the new product. The feeling seemed to be that although Americans might accept GM wheat, the Europeans and Japanese–import buyers of U.S.-grown wheat–would not.
That’s too bad, because herbicide-resistant wheat is simply the first step toward a future that North Dakotans and many others seem eager to achieve.
Isn’t that something we should feel guilty about?