The survey revealed that “the public is willing to accept the production of GM foods in certain applications”, according to the British Science Association, which commissioned the report. Most consumers backed more GM research designed to improve crop nutrition or to reduce reliance on pesticides and fertilisers.
But most neither agreed nor disagreed with the view that GM technology in general should be encouraged.
Dominic Dyer, CPA chief executive, told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the survey results, plus Gates’ recent support for GM, were evidence of consumers viewing GM more favourably than previously.
In January Gates told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that GM techniques had a place alongside more conventional methods, particularly if they prevented many people dying of starvation.
He said: “Some of the work we [The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] are doing to create new seeds involves GM techniques, but a lot of it does not. What we end up with is a set of products with which African countries can decide what they want to use.”
Dyer accounted for the alleged shift in perception towards GM by claiming that people under the age of 25 are more technologically savvy and supportive of research and innovation than previous generations.
Also, they were too young to remember the controversy surrounding the environmental impact of GM, which raged 10 –15 years ago GMS’s alleged environmental impact, he said. “If anything, the survey downplayed the change in consumer perceptions, especially among the younger generation.”
Agricultural research organisation the Rothamsted Research Institute (RRI) also welcomed the survey results. Professor Maurice Moloney, RRI chief executive, said:“These data are extremely helpful in assessing the evolving view of the general public to GM technology and products.”
He added: “The survey suggests that the UK public is interested in the end uses and real benefits of GM technology, rather than harbouring blanket scepticism.”
But campaign group GM Freeze said the survey presented an “inaccurate” view ofconsumers GM opinions. It also accused BSA of “…failing to provide respondents with the full facts about the experimental crops”.
“The questions used in the poll put a very positive spin on GM crops, include some basic factual errors and ignore problems and scientific uncertainty about their efficacy,”said a spokesman. For example, questions on growing herbicide-resistant beets did not mention that its use in the Americas led to herbicide-resistant“superweeds”, he said.
Meanwhile, the Soil Association (SA) said that GM had been discredited and the debate had moved on. It was pointless to restart a debate from 10 years ago and “a real throwback to focus on GM”, said Dr Tom MacMillan, SA director of innovation.
Researchers should focus on agro-ecological and organic approaches to meet new ways of meeting challenges facing the food supply chain.