Consumers search for trustworthy GMO information

Consumer perceptions and confusion abound when it comes to the topic of genetically modified organisms.

There was no confusion for Jennifer Carlson when she launched her line of organic baby food 11 years ago.

“Organic was always predominately the number one choice when we started this company,” the Calgary mother said.

“As a mother, I wanted to give my baby the very best, and that came with the best of ingredients.”

Carlson did not want anything containing pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs when she started making baby food in her kitchen for her six-month-old daughter.

Certified organic products cannot be genetically modified, but that information is not added to the food label.

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To be on the safe side, she does not use corn starch or canola in any of her products, which she sells across North America under the brand name Baby Gourmet.

The company website provides full information on ingredients, and Carlson is active on social media and blogs for the Huffington Post about good eating.

“We are very transparent about where our food comes from and where our ingredients come from,” she said.

“People like to read the ingredients. They like to see what is in it.”

People are hungry for information, and Carlson has joined the newly formed Clean Label Project as an adviser.

During her time in the food business, she has learned that mothers make up an influential consumer group who get their information from each other and social media. They want to know more, but how they sift through the billions of bytes of data is up to them.

“You have to find a reliable source that you trust and follow their information,” said Carlson.

Finding that credible, trustworthy source of information can be a challenge, said Crystal MacKay, executive director of Farm and Food Care Canada.

The organization oversees the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, which works to build public trust in the food supply.

Research is showing many people are not scientifically literate, and when they consult Google, negative information about genetic modification is often the first thing they see, she said.

Surveys from across North America report that people want their food labelled for the presence of GMOs, but when pressed, the average person is not sure what the term means.

Some members of focus groups have said breeding the best cow to the best bull to get a better animal is genetic modification, even though farmers have done selective breeding since livestock was domesticated.

“People aren’t willing to work that hard to understand complex things like GMOs,” MacKay said.

“It is easier to be against something than try and sort through all that noise to figure out what the answer is.”

Finding credible information can be a problem, and researchers study sources of information regularly.

Recent research on public trust found people believe that university and government researchers are the most credible sources of information. Dieticians and veterinarians are also trusted sources, while corporations are not.

“The closer you are to the profit, the less credible you will be viewed,” she said.

However farmers have a high level of credibility, even though they make money growing GM crops.

Comprehension is part of the problem. Scientists and reports may have credibility, but reading peer reviewed research papers may not tell the average consumer what she wants to know.

Farm and Food Care has introduced the Best Food Facts Online to its website. It is a U.S. based resource with 120,000 visitors per month. Ten Canadian researchers have been added to the group of experts to provide an online forum to answer questions.

“The goal is to provide a foodie friendly forum for researchers to have the opportunity to express their views, not in a scientific journal way,” MacKay said.

“The most important thing for Canadians is healthy and affordable food, and after that they want to know they have access to the information,” she said.

Ellen Goddard, professor and co-operative chair of agricultural marketing and business at the University of Alberta, studies consumers, their attitudes and perceptions. Biotechnology and GMO opinions have been on her radar for a long time.

“I wouldn’t say the entire population was positive about the idea. It is important to get that,” she said.

One of her research projects asked subjects if they would eat something like margarine if they knew it contained a GMO. More than half said they would not buy it, even though most canola has been modified.

“It begs the question what would happen if we labelled it,” she said.

“This is the reason why some people are so opposed to labelling it because of that relatively high percentage that is in the definitely not/probably not category.”

Her surveys have found nearly half the population is opposed or somewhat opposed to biotechnology in general, but 55 percent support it. Medicinal use of biotechnology was received less negatively.

“It is not the technology, but the technology in food, that somehow makes them uncertain.”

Those who are strongly opposed do not change their minds, al-though the numbers in the neutral category are growing a bit.

“In the last 15 years, we are not seeing a switch in people being negative about technology to people being positive about this. It seems to be staying relatively flat,” she said.

There are geographical differences of opinion.

“Having some connection to agriculture seems to moderate your views,” she said. “You don’t need to be a farmer. If you lived in Airdrie, you are probably going to know more about agriculture than somebody who lives in downtown Calgary, just because of the people you hang around with.”

Age is another influencer.

“Older people are a bit more philosophical about technology, so if they can see a health benefit, then they are happy enough with it,” she said.

If they see no benefit, they are in the neutral category.

Millennials may have the strongest preferences for natural products, so researchers are trying to pinpoint what people define as natural.

“Natural could mean anything.”

People younger than 35 are realizing they have to learn how to cook, and they want things with fewer ingredients. They also want to understand what the ingredients are and do not want products that sound like they were created in a lab.

Goddard is also tracking where people get information.

Her research team asked people at the end of 2015 which types of social media they use to get information about food, science or technology. Those results are still being analyzed.

“The demand for information is something that is pervasive throughout my research, whether I am dealing with genetic technologies or genomic selection or anything,” she said.

“If you ask the public, they will always say more information is better than less,” she said.

Some researchers have asked people if they know what DNA, genomics or genetically modified organisms are, and have found there to be limited knowledge.

They also asked people if they agree or disagree that the world is better off with technology.

Those who agree are also fine with GM products.

As well, people who are generally more positive about technology rate themselves as high knowledge when asked to self-assess their personal knowledge about science and technology.

“Are those people more knowledgeable? Possibly,” Goddard said.

“Is there a link to education? Possibly. Can we educate ourselves out of people’s concerns about this? No.”

Children may be influenced to accept these technologies and understand what they are, but adults are not likely to change their minds.

“Your beliefs are made up of so many different values that the education piece doesn’t work particularly, especially if it comes from an interest group,” she said.

Goddard said she has found that people want more information, and some have said they are willing to pay more for products with more detailed labels.

“We seem to have an insatiable demand for information from a variety of sources,” she said.

About the author


  • alex

    Just search bill hicks marketing

  • JRLatham

    A good source is the non-profit Independent Science News:

    • RobertWager
      • StopGMO

        All 3 of your links have either conflicts of interest or some sort of ties to the industry and is pseudo-science, especially your genetic literacy project, pro-GMO … site. …

        • RobertWager

          Can you please explain how having experts in a field expressing their expert opinion about the subject they are trained experts in is somehow wrong. if not the experts in the field then who?

          • Farmer with a Dell

            It may be best to always rely upon ignorant and inexperienced people to handle the important stuff. They have an open mind and are not biased with expertise and science and all that. Imagine the possibilities by taking someone off the street and coaching them in how you want things done…like dental work. What could possibly go wrong with that?

          • Harold

            Is it the white lab coat you’re looking at? Can you tell me then, how the “other” scientists with the same or higher levels of education and expert opinion are so readily debunked, all dependent upon the position of their expert opinion. Why above this, is there a expert opinion about expert opinion’s.
            Science supports Science period. Outside is technology. From outside, technology is being used to express science. This group is representing technology “so called” independently. Debunking is not a term within science. Simply, you cannot debunk the study methods of the moon, you can only debunk the method of getting there. Debunking the method of getting to the moon, does not make the moon disappear or their studies. Furthermore, the Challenger was not put into place to debunk the original rocket-ship. I see this connection in all of your arguments. I know when and who to listen to for science, and I know who and when to listen to technology. For this, i am neither a pro-this or anti-that for your pleasure.

          • RobertWager

            I always find it interesting when the critics of GE technology attempt to smear high level reports on the safety of GE crops and derived foods but they never bring forward quality science that is accepted by the expert GE technology community (that is a global group of experts). There is very good data from decades of properly executed examination of GE crops and derived foods and it all confirms what the EASAC and repeated NAS reports say. GE crops and derived foods are as safe or safer than food derived from plants made with other breeding methods.. That is the bottom line.

          • Harold

            Let’s take a look at your words. critic, smear, high level, quality, accepted, expert, very good, properly executed, and bottom line.
            Interesting in deed.
            When has science ever had, or enjoyed a bottom line?
            When you smear and criticize, it’s not the same, is it. When you act, you’re not an activist are you. When did the words activist, opposition, and critical, become bad words? Did somebody re-write the dictionary?
            Tell me this. Without ongoing human and animal epidemiological studies originating from 20 years ago, how do you prove the safety of food altered by technology. Even so, without labeling, how are long term effects traced to the origin? Apparently this is not considered to be part of a “properly executed examination”. It’s considered to be smear. Am I being anti-something?
            Some people have become more critical and therefore have developed a concern for which they act upon. They are not the anti- which is thrown around indiscriminately.

          • RobertWager

            Having concerns is normal but unfortunately we live in the “post truth” era and there is so much false information about GE crops and derived foods that many people (with real fear) are concerned about things that are not true.

            Please tell this forum what unique risks food derived from GE crops have.

          • richard

            Unique risk #1…..the use of glyphosate increasing exponentially since the advent of GMO….1.35 MILLION TONNES globally…. an insidious addiction to a monocultural worldview perpetrated by apocryphal spine numbing repetition…

          • RobertWager

            And what herbicides did it replace and what was effect on the environment from the switch from older herbicides? May i suggest you look up this fact. I would be happy to link this information to you.

          • richard

            ……the rote specious argument again……Its irrelevant sir, because they are obsolete also…… The real question is what are you going to do about group one, two, three, four, five and six herbicide resistance…..the direct result of forty years of monocultural, monothematic, monotonous agribiz doctrine hitting the brick wall… (13 weed species on sixty million acres in the USA resistant to glyphosate (USDA)…. and increasing every minute, of every hour of every day…… And you still think its about defending transgenic DNA? …

          • RobertWager

            Hi Richard. Herbicide resistance in weeds is as old as herbicide use. Presently there are around 200 different weeds resistant to different herbicides and just over a dozen are resistant to glyphosate. Further if you look at the history of resistance development in weeds over the decades it has actually slowed after the invention of herbicide tolerant GE crops. I

            Now if you ask is there an environmental impact of GE crops the answer is definitely yes. But context is everything in this discussion.

            Has GE crops reduced the environmental impact of agriculture? Again the answer is definitely yes.

            There is no free lunch. All agriculture impacts the environment. the trick is to produce the maximum yield with the minimum impact in the most sustainable way. in that regard GE crops are part of the answer in the coming decades.

          • richard

            Two billion, seven hundred million pounds of glyphosate unleashed on the biosphere in 2017, largely on three key food crops is neither “minimum impact” or a “sustainable way”…..It is a one way street to its apologists “hoisting themselves on their own petard”……..Furthermore GM commodity agriculture is not feeding the world…..its feeding obesity…..Cheap food inc. is the largest beneficiary of twenty billion dollars of taxpayer subsidy (USDA) to insure that North Americans eat badly. Lets think about that for one quick second…..We are paying farmers and processors to guarantee that as many people as possible are overweight and sick, in order to break health care systems, in the name of entitlement….. There is no metric for progress here Robert, sorry….. please stop trying to defend it…… GM crops may be part of the answer…..but only when they grow up and start becoming about health, wellness, nutrient density, vitality……not vain illusions of killing everything in the field in order to stroke egos…

          • glyphoaste use has increased exponentially in EU too, yet we do not grow any RuR crops. The major driver was the expirarion of patent protection. Fields here are sprayed before emergence and sometimes even before harvest, in the US mainly after the crop germinates.

          • Harold

            Please answer the question that i have asked you over and over again. Perhaps this merry-go-round will cease.
            Is “real fear” the appropriate response to have when one faces accountability lacking? I just “hang up the phone”, or press the delete button. Is somebody holding a “real” gun? or Is this a “Let’s just say”? From who’s opinion, does it become the fact, of a “post truth” era? Is this another “let just say”? How over me, do you choose what my truth is going to be? Was it upon your birth? Did your power of observation; along with the ability to read and write, not bring you to where you are today? Who then is lacking in the sameness? The public? Me?
            You asked of the following:
            Q) “Please tell this forum what unique risks food derived from GE crops have”?
            A) The risk is: GE risks are not obvious, and not immediate, and not traceable, whereas, a poisonous mushroom is all three, plus an immediate victim< the expression of the poison. This makes GE unique.
            What separates GE from "tobacco science", is that the tobacco victim has full knowledge of the total amount of the smoking, and therefore, so do the studies with tobacco's long term effects. Tobacco and contents are pinpointed in a human study, that previously were not carried out or covered up. Some may foolishly believe that the ill effects could only be discovered by examining the plant, and the environment, and believing peer reviewed "tobacco Science", rendering a human body study needless. Where GE and "tobacco science" are the same, is that in essence, the victim has no useful knowledge of the "smoking", nor useful knowledge of the total amount of the "smoking", yet cannot discontinue "smoking" to pinpoint it's long/short term effects. This makes GE favorable and not unique to the eyes of health examination. This places GE from first, to last position, to "when all else fails", a multitude. in determining a cause for failing health. For the past 20 years, GE has held an ill-placed, last-place position.
            I do know why you are refusing, and side-stepping my question. The answer makes your question moot, and in turn, dissolves your related claims.
            Epidemiological animal and human studies representing 20 years; where are they?- Are epidemiological study's even possible?- If epidemiological study's are impossible,who has made it so?- What is a epidemiological study's purpose? What is a human epidemiological GE study's equivalent, and where is it's representation of 20 years?- How important are epidemiological study's?
            From one on one, you have invited the forum in, at your request, in a bid that i may bring discredit to myself, not to you, but to the eye of all. Now I shall do the same
            As a man of knowledge, can you concisely, for this forum, answer just one or more of these questions?

          • RobertWager

            Biofortifiedgenera has the studies you seek.

          • Harold

            What you have offered is nothing more than studies for corporate seeking approval for their products. The first study that i opened was funded by Monsanto. (approved) Is he in the human health science’s business now? Did Tobacco funded studies find the link to Cancer? Will Monsanto be eagerly looking for a link to any health problem? What will it mean to the Monsanto Company if his funded study finds a link to cancer or any health related illness from his product? Be that as it may, I looked at many of the related animal and human study’s merely from curiosity, and NONE were the studies that I had requested. They are not there nor is there a design for those studies to even be there. As you invited in the forum, then this message is for all.
            Check it out.

          • Jason

            What separates GE from “tobacco science”, is that the tobacco victim has full knowledge of the total amount of the smoking, and therefore, so do the studies with tobacco’s long term effects.

            You bring up a great comparison. Just like with tobacco, there was a large body of evidence and a scientific consensus on health impacts, yet financial motivations lead a group to deny that scientific consensus.

          • Harold

            I thank you first for responding, but it was your prior knowledge that made it great; not I.
            May i further add that In the simplest of human terms, when one points a “gun”, there is either “war” or there is “surrender”. When two are in agreement, there are no “guns”, they keep their own, and live side by side. Those wishing to join either culture, do so freely. Either culture freely dissolves it’self on it’s on terms and not upon the will of other. By this obvious description, we can visualize where the corruptness lie between ‘organic’ and ‘GE”. Fueled by money, at the expense of freedom. In the case of tobacco, we surrendered to “tobacco science” and in likeness. will continue doing so. They always say; the money you give, follow the money trail. It seems that when you do, one trail leads to a “church”, or hand, that is “feeding” the “world”, and the other trail is “feeding” a hand that does not. For what is truly simple and easy to understand, liars will turn complex, but this should be expected. “Well it’s too complex” they say. Oh ya? How then can you understand it? The listener decides the complexity. “You just don’t understand”, they say. Oh ya? Then you cannot help. Liars use dismissive terms. Another dismissive term, is that you are “anti” something, without you first saying it yourself.
            This comment is one more comparison, and likely obvious to most, and doesn’t require proof.

          • …of food altered by technology.. the point there is, that most GM derived foods are not altered at all. How is sugar from GM sugar beet altered relative to cane sugar or beet sugar? The foods that have been altered are not on the market yet, or are vailabel in limited areas. Like arctic apples or simplot tomatoes, goldenrice.

          • hyperzombie

            simplot tomatoes

            Potato. And they are on the market here in North America. Simplot GMO spuds are labeled as “White Russets” in stores. Apple will be in somewhat wide release this fall.

          • Harold

            To modify a gene, it is done through the tools of technology, altering the gene from original state. Hence; Genetically modified Organism (GMO) etc. The varying methods such as the “gold gun”, (Cornell University) gene editing, etc can be discovered on your own. I don’t give out links as a rule because there is always more to learn than just one link provides.
            I was fortunate to be in a circle of professionals who taught me without using explanation’s. Instead they gave me a question and did not agree until i found the answer. The answer they already new. It showed me what walk the walk and talk the talk truly means. Some of that has rubbed off on me. I can determine between who is serious and who is not. The walk shows.
            The only thing necessary at the end of the day is that you agree with yourself, and that doesn’t include me. Not sleeping at night further illustrates this.

          • Sorry, but how is it related to what I wrote?

          • Harold

            You said; “the foods that have been altered are not on the market yet. How will I prove that they are? To modify, you have altered the original condition/state. (dictionary meaning= to change or alter…….) G-modified-O.(GMO) G engineered. (GE) Gene editing etc. The methods you can discover.
            You asked: “how is sugar from GM sugar beet altered – relative to cane sugar or beet sugar”? The extraction process/method varies between each. The process is only altered, when the results are an un-favorable sugar product, or when their is a positive effect upon the bottom line. The extraction process, In some cases, add unwanted chemicals and elements such as mercury and plus,plus. (extraction process information is often guarded as well as product examination.) This you can discover. The sugars are physiologically and biochemically not the same. How will I prove this? Impossible to do in this forum as there is not the space or the time to compile the vast amount of information needed. Three sciences minimum. (your research into the question)
            You said; “like arctic apples or simplot tomatoes, goldenrice”. These products are either still being developed (golden-rice) or are in the process of gaining approval, and then will be added to our current list.(for one; GM corn is almost everywhere).

          • I am afraid you are mistaken. Extration process of GM sugar beet is the same as nonGM sugar beet, starch made from Bt corn is the same as from non Bt, oil from GM soybean is the same as from nonGM, vitamins produced in GM microorganisms are the same as vitamins from nonGM microorganisms. That is why labeling of processed foods might be difficult and not practical. From the food itself there is no way to tell which crop variety has been used in its production. You can even check the non-GMO project website. Those who are interested in getting their nonGMO stamp on food have to certify the whole process chain , because once processed, GM ingredients cannot be distinguished reliably . Re: “arctic apples or simplot tomatoes, goldenrice” – at least we could agree that these products are not yet on the market, albeit Hyperzombie said, that the potatoes and apples had hit the shelves in north America already. They are still relative novelty and probably not widely available. I mentioned these specifically, since these are the examples of foods that are designed to be different from nonGMO countreparts. And I am pretty sure that these foods will be segregated from other varieties, labelled and possibly even sold at a premium. And sorry for my mistake – its not simplot tomato but potato.

          • Yes, I know what is a gene gun, how to use it and how to transform plants using agrobacterium. Been there done that. My point was, that by modifying a crop you do not necessarily modify the food, that is derived and processed from the crop.

      • grinninglibber

        GLC is a GMO operative site.

      • Peaceful Warrior

        Both the EASAC and the NAS have huge conflicts of interest with the biotech industry. The GLP is an industry controlled site full of industry spin, propaganda, and disinformation that igores any science that conflicts with it’s industry agenda.

  • Harold

    We’ve already been doing that for decade’s. Anything wrong?


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