GM rejection can be reversed
Decisions made decades ago could explain why many consumers still reject genetically modified foods.
Science communicator Dr Craig Cormick says GM was pitched heavily at farmers and companies when it first emerged 20 years ago, but did not focus on consumers.
He has told reporters that much of the debate now happens at the fringes.
“About 15 per cent are at either end, we call them the ‘polar bears’, who say they either ‘never ever eat GM food’ or ‘GM is fine, there's nothing wrong with it’,” he said.
“The rest, 60 to 70 per cent of the public we call the penguins because they move around a bit depending on the issue or the topic, tend to say ‘it's OK if you prove it's safe’, or ‘OK if you prove it's regulated’.”
This month marks 20 years since GM products were first introduced in Australia by Monsanto.
GM crops now account for almost all of Australia’s cotton industry, but commercial crops of GM canola still face bans in South Australia and Tasmania.
Just 10 per cent of New South Wales and Victorian grain growers are using GM canola, and up to 30 per cent in Western Australia.
Dr Cormick says there is not nearly as much passion relating to the issue 15 years ago, but consumers still baulk at buying GM food.
“Historically, what defined the public debate, as with the nuclear industry or fracking, the first utterances on GM food are interesting,” Dr Cormick said.
“The developers of GM crops looked at the end customer, which was the farmer.
“The farmers were pretty keen on the first generation of GM crops, but [Monsanto] forgot they were selling to somebody else, because they had no experience selling to somebody else.
“The consumer looked at it and said; ‘So you're getting the benefit and I'm taking the risk? I don't think so’.”
GM technologies are now being more broadly applied in food and medicine, and Dr Cormick says these industries must learn from the industry’s early failures.
“Insulin is almost all GM, there's no problem there, because it's health and medicine, while genetic markers technology is booming ahead.
“Companies need to ask the public what they want, like what might be healthier, richer in Omega 3, or technology to address obesity and diabetes.
“If people see the risk they'll start adopting the technologies.”