According to literature based on direct consumer
surveys, consumer awareness of GMOs is low. The Food Policy Institute at
Rutgers University conducted a survey and concluded that US consumers in
general were not informed regarding GMOs. More specifically, only 48% know that
GMOs were available in supermarkets and just 31% believe that they have
consumed a GM product. Moreover, most of participants self-rated their
knowledge to be inadequate; 48% stated that they are almost uninformed about
GMOs, while 16% felt they knew nothing at all, in comparison with 30% sufficiently
informed and only5% knowing a lot about GMOs. A cross-cultural survey,
investigating consumers in the United States, Japan, and Italy, illustrated
that US consumers were more familiar with GMOs in contrast to Italian and
Japanese. The public seems to trust scientific sources, such as university
scientists, over alternative sources, such as farmers, environmental
organizations, government agencies, grocery stores, and food manufacturers (Wunderlich &
Gatto, 2015).

Therefore, although GM products have been in the food industry
for decades and continue to increase in use, consumer awareness is not increasing
accordingly. A rigorous assessment of shortfalls in consumer knowledge should
take place, leading to the development of guidelines and policies to increase public
understanding. Future studies should examine methods of published scientific
information to consumers by using popular channels of information to help
increase the volume and quality of GMO-related information available to the
average consumer. Furthermore, the education of those responsible for the distribution
of this knowledge through such public media sources is of paramount significance
to enhance risk communication. Summarizing, these sources should be honest,
accurate, provide both pros and cons, and try to inform the laypeople instead
of convincing them about GMOs.

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Although seeds are expensive, because of their resistance to pests, GM crops can maximize the agricultural
output while minimizing the pesticide and other input expenses. (Qaim, 2010). Also, the nutritional content of these crops can be
altered, providing a more comprehensive nutritional profile than what was
offered previously. For instance, second-generation GM crops involve enhanced
quality traits, such as higher nutrient content.  “Golden Rice,” one of the first GM crops, is modified
to address vitamin A shortage, a common phenomenon in developing countries that
leads to blindness and entails higher rates of child mortality and infectious
diseases. Widespread production and consumption of bio-fortified staple crops
could improve health outcomes and provide economic benefits in a very
cost-effective way, especially in rural areas of developing countries. A recent simulation shows that
Golden Rice could reduce health problems associated with vitamin A deficiency
by up to 60 percent in rice-eating populations (Qaim, 2010).

On the other hand, there are fears about unexpected
consequences of GM crossbreeding which involves mating between different
species. For example, genes that are ‘mixed’ between animals and plants are one
concern regarding GM foods. Tomatoes that have been engineered to have a longer
shelf life had genes inserted from flounder. This kind of genetic manipulation
may trigger diseases to be spread across different species. Ethically, another
issue is that vegetarians who do not eat food containing animal genes may
accidentally consume. Additionally, there is a danger of triggering allergies
or diseases in humans. Given that a gene could be extracted from an allergenic
organism and placed into another one that typically does not cause allergies, a
person may unknowingly be exposed to an allergen that could lead to an allergic
reaction. There is also the fear that new allergies could occur by mixing genes
from two different organisms. Finally, ethical concerns are raised regarding
environmental impact such as our ability to constrain GM crops in a specific
area and stop an unwanted spreading of them. (Murnaghan, 2017).

Until now, it seems that the benefits
do not outweigh the risks because assessing long-term effects of GM foods is
one of the greatest challenges of this biotechnology. The unpredictable element
of GM foods and the fact that this technology is relatively new means that
knowing in advance what might go wrong is difficult to assess and there is the
danger of ostrich’s fallacy. There are also criticisms of the corporations who
produce these foods that encourages issues around long-term effects because
some people believe these companies are unethical and that they essentially try
to ‘cover up’ evidence showing negative long-term effects of the foods. Also,
the issue of deciding who will be liable for unexpected consequences should be
a vital one to examine. Will it be the company who engineered the product, the
growers, the government and regulatory bodies who approved it or the
supermarket that sold it? These are all important issues that need to be investigated.
Unexpected consequences of GM foods should be a concern for virtually anyone –
including supporters of GM foods. 

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