Will consumers accept gene-edited poultry?

Gene editing technologies, like CRISPR, could help improve disease resistance and increase production in poultry. However, the technology remains controversial and consumer acceptance is not guaranteed.

“Food consumption is a very personal and sensitive topic because it impacts every person in their daily lives. In the case of genome editing, the expected risks are of importance. Many people lack knowledge about the technologies but also about other breeding techniques. This makes it very hard for them to judge and compare genome editing,” explained Dr. Gesa Busch from the University of Göttingen.

Busch, alongside researchers from the University of British Columbia, surveyed 3,700 people in five countries – Italy, Germany, Canada, Austria and the U.S. – for their thoughts on the risks and benefits of new breeding technologies. 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.

Disease, not performance

In all countries, survey respondents were most receptive to gene editing when used to combat disease in people, followed by disease resistance in plants and animals. Genome editing used to enhance the performance quality and quantity in animals received the least support.

“For many, preventing diseases is more ok than applications that increase performance or change product qualities. Whenever the expected motive is increasing profits, public acceptance declines,” Busch said.

Respondents that had some knowledge about gene editing were more likely to be supportive of the technology. In addition, the survey found that women were more skeptical.

“From what we know, it is a good idea to communicate and discuss about single applications, e.g. preventing diseases, instead of talking about the technology as such,” Busch added.

“People that already have concerns, such as regarding animal welfare in poultry systems, might expect new breeding technologies to even worsen the situations. Improving whole systems in terms of better animal welfare, together with using gene editing to further prevent diseases, might be a promising strategy.”

The study was recently published in Agriculture and Human Values.

Par Elizabeth Doughman (05/08/2021)

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