Genome Editing For Food: How Do People React?

Summary: People are less averse to the use of CRISPR gene editing in agriculture if the technology is used to promote disease resistance in animals. However, people tend to dislike the use of CRISPR when it comes to new breeding methods.

Source: University of Göttingen

A research team from the University of Göttingen and the University of British Columbia (Canada) has investigated how people in five different countries react to various usages of genome editing in agriculture.

The researchers looked at which uses are accepted and how the risks and benefits of the new breeding technologies are rated by people.

The results show only minor differences between the countries studied – Germany, Italy, Canada, Austria and the USA. In all countries, making changes to the genome is more likely to be deemed acceptable when used in crops rather than in livestock.

The study was published in Agriculture and Human Values.

Relatively new breeding technologies, such as CRISPR gene editing, have enabled a range of new opportunities for plant and animal breeding. In the EU, the technology falls under genetic engineering legislation and is therefore subject to rigorous restrictions.

However, the use of gene technologies remains controversial.

Between June and November 2019, the research team collected views on this topic via online surveys from around 3,700 people from five countries.

Five different applications of gene editing were evaluated: three relate to disease resistance in people, plants, or animals; and two relate to achieving either better quality of produce or a larger quantity of product from cattle.

“We were able to observe that the purpose of the gene modification plays a major role in how it is rated,” says first author Dr Gesa Busch from the University of Göttingen. “If the technology is used to make animals resistant to disease, approval is greater than if the technology is used to increase the output from animals.”

This shows DNA
The researchers looked at which uses are accepted and how the risks and benefits of the new breeding technologies are rated by people. Image is in the public domain

Overall, however, the respondents reacted very differently to the uses of the new breeding methods. Four different groups can be identified: strong supporters, supporters, neutrals, and opponents of the technology.

The opponents (24 percent) identify high risks and calls for a ban of the technology, regardless of possible benefits. The strong supporters (21 percent) see few risks and many advantages. The supporters (26 percent) see many advantages but also risks. Whereas those who were neutral (29 percent) show no strong opinion on the subject.

Funding: This study was made possible through funding from the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and Genome BC.

About this CRISPR research news

Source: University of Gottingen
Contact: Melissa Sollich – University of Gottingen
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Citizen views on genome editing: effects of species and purpose” by Gesa Busch et al. Agriculture and Human Values


Citizen views on genome editing: effects of species and purpose

Public opinion can affect the adoption of genome editing technologies. In food production, genome editing can be applied to a wide range of applications, in different species and with different purposes.

This study analyzed how the public responds to five different applications of genome editing, varying the species involved and the proposed purpose of the modification.

Three of the applications described the introduction of disease resistance within different species (human, plant, animal), and two targeted product quality and quantity in cattle.

Online surveys in Canada, the US, Austria, Germany and Italy were carried out with a total sample size of 3698 participants. Using a between-subject design, participants were confronted with one of the five applications and asked to decide whether they considered it right or wrong.

Perceived risks, benefits, and the perception of the technology as tampering with nature were surveyed and were complemented with socio-demographics and a measure of the participants’ moral foundations.

In all countries, participants evaluated the application of disease resistance in humans as most right to do, followed by disease resistance in plants, and then in animals, and considered changes in product quality and quantity in cattle as least right to do.

However, US and Italian participants were generally more positive toward all scenarios, and German and Austrian participants more negative.

Cluster analyses identified four groups of participants: ‘strong supporters’ who saw only benefits and little risks, ‘slight supporters’ who perceived risks and valued benefits, ‘neutrals’ who showed no pronounced opinion, and ‘opponents’ who perceived higher risks and lower benefits.

This research contributes to understanding public response to applications of genome editing, revealing differences that can help guide decisions related to adoption of these technologies.

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