Chart: U.S. consumer perceptions regarding G.M.O.s in 2016

Consumers remain skeptical

Debunking the myths surrounding G.M.O.s has been playing out in mainstream media for some time, yet convincing consumers to believe in science is not easy. For example, in “The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari’s Glass House,” a book published in October 2015 and dubbed “the book the natural and organic food industries don’t want you to read,” the authors explain that G.M.O.s have to be a living thing, otherwise they are not organisms.

“Something that is derived from a G.M.O. might or might not contain genes modified with molecular genetic engineering,” said Kavin Senapathy, one of the authors. “Consumers do not understand that G.M.O.s are not something that can be scooped into a bowl and served.”

Still, consumer awareness — and often fear — of G.M. foods is growing. In 2012, 57% of consumers surveyed by HealthFocus International, St. Petersburg, Fla., for its bi-annual Trend Study in the USA on Healthy Eating and Living were of aware of G.M.O.s.

“This number jumped to 69% in 2014 and 79% in 2016,” said Steven Walton, president of HealthFocus International. “This is important because foods and beverages with G.M.O.s are seen overwhelmingly as less healthy, less safe to eat and worse for the environment.

Kavin Senapathy, author

“Historically, HealthFocus International has documented that food and beverage concerns are often not by themselves key motivations driving major changes in habits or purchasing power. However, they are negatively elastic in response to unfavorable press and media coverage.”

Given the high levels of G.M.O. awareness, this negativity may become a problem given the hype in the media. This is influencing food and beverage manufacturers’ selection of ingredients.

“Consumers are becoming savvy to the fact that products certified as non-G.M.O. come with strict compliance guidelines,” said Kristen Doran, innovation and marketing manager, iTi Tropicals, Lawrenceville, N.J. “The growing awareness and concern about G.M.O.s, as far as we can tell, is not going anywhere.”

Randal Giroux, vice-president of food safety, quality and regulatory, Cargill, Minneapolis, said, “While we firmly believe G.M.O.s are proven safe and provide numerous benefits, we also recognize some consumers want more choices when it comes to the foods they eat. We foresee continuing demand for both G.M. and non-G.M. foods, and we believe the two can co-exist to feed a growing population.”

It is really all about the consumer. For ingredient suppliers, that’s the manufacturer.

“Some companies who use G.M. ingredients and proactively label as such, have seen no impact on their sales,” said Azmy Azmy, biotechnology regulatory lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis. “At the end of the day, it really depends on the consumer target you are going after as to whether a non-G.M.O. claim will create additional opportunities for your brand.”