More than we can chew

Geographical - - WORLD­WATCH -

Sur­veys sug­gest that West­ern­ers aren’t yet will­ing to ac­cept novel food tech­nol­ogy

From food ir­ra­di­a­tion to freeze dry­ing, sup­ply-chain tech­nolo­gies have en­hanced the safety and sus­tain­abil­ity of foods. Since 1961, global food sup­ply per capita has in­creased more than 30 per cent. How­ever, pub­lic ac­cep­tance of new tech­nolo­gies might prove a tricky ob­sta­cle to build­ing a more sus­tain­able food sup­ply chain.

Psy­chol­o­gist Michael Siegrist and nu­tri­tion scientist Christina Hart­mann have com­piled re­search on the psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­ci­etal fac­tors that in­flu­ence con­sumer ac­cep­tance of food tech­nolo­gies. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 sur­vey of more than 30,000 con­sumers, the most de­sir­able food at­tributes are ‘fresh­ness’, ‘nat­u­ral­ness’ and ‘min­i­mal pro­cess­ing’. It will come as no sur­prise then that a 2018 study found that a la­bel stat­ing that a prod­uct had been ‘treated with food ir­ra­di­a­tion’ was detri­men­tal to con­sumers’ per­cep­tion of qual­ity. ‘Many con­sumers per­ceive the use of food tech­nolo­gies as con­tra­dic­tory to healthy, nu­tri­tious food, which may be a chal­lenge for the in­dus­try,’ says Siegrist. Yet, progress to­wards a more sus­tain­able and safer food sys­tem is dif­fi­cult to en­vis­age with­out in­no­va­tion. Cur­rently, 21–37 per cent of to­tal green­house gas emis­sions are at­trib­ut­able to food pro­duc­tion. While some peo­ple are tak­ing ac­tion by mak­ing more sus­tain­able choices, Siegrist’s re­search iden­ti­fies some con­fu­sion when it comes to food tech­nolo­gies. A 2018 study of more than 1,000 mil­len­ni­als, con­ducted by the US De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, showed that those more con­cerned about the sus­tain­abil­ity of their diet were also least likely to ac­cept ‘shelf-life ex­ten­sion’ tech­nolo­gies, con­sid­ered one of the most sus­tain­abil­ity-driv­ing in­no­va­tions. No novel food tech­nol­ogy has been more di­vi­sive than the use of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms. The 2010 Euro­barom­e­ter sur­vey, con­ducted in 32 coun­tries, shows that op­po­nents of GM foods out­num­ber sup­port­ers by three to one. ‘An im­por­tant driver of ac­cep­tance of food tech­nolo­gies are per­ceived ben­e­fits: taste, nu­tri­tion or price for ex­am­ple. While GM foods may im­prove yields, the di­rect ben­e­fits aren’t to the con­sumers them­selves. It’s not cheaper or health­ier, so con­sumers have been slow to ac­cept it,’ says Siegrist.

Stem cell tech­nol­ogy can now be used to grow meat in a lab­o­ra­tory.

The first lab-grown burger was made in 2013, but pro­duc­tion costs to­talled US$300,000. How­ever, in 2019, Dutch food tech­nol­ogy com­pany MosaMeat re­vealed that by 2021, its pro­duc­tion costs would drop to US$10 a burger. When scaled up, lab-grown meat may of­fer a more sus­tain­able and an­i­mal-friendly al­ter­na­tive to live­stock rear­ing. But, once again, a 2018 sur­vey showed that the pub­lic isn’t quite ready for it. Sur­vey re­spon­dents had a low un­der­stand­ing of the tech­nol­ogy and a low level of ac­cep­tance. When the pro­duc­tion process was ex­plained to them, it ac­tu­ally re­in­forced the ac­cep­tance of tra­di­tion­ally reared meat.

‘Cul­tured meat evokes a “dis­gust” re­sponse in many peo­ple be­cause it’s per­ceived as ar­ti­fi­cial,’ says Siegrist. He adds that evo­lu­tion­ary psy­chol­ogy might help to ex­plain this. ‘In­stead of re­ly­ing only on our im­mune sys­tem to fight in­fec­tions in our body, our be­havioural im­mune sys­tem has evolved to evoke a feel­ing of dis­gust or a “neo­pho­bic re­sponse” to un­known foods that may have harmed us in the past. The very same be­havioural con­structs may be im­pact­ing peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept novel food tech­nolo­gies in the mod­ern day.’ The ma­jor­ity of re­search on pub­lic per­cep­tions of novel food tech­nolo­gies has been car­ried out in Europe or North Amer­ica. ‘It’s im­por­tant that we un­der­stand whether the con­cept of nat­u­ral­ness is as cul­tur­ally im­por­tant to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries if we are to en­sure global food se­cu­rity,’ says Siegrist. He hopes that we can get around psy­cho­log­i­cal bar­ri­ers for the com­mon good. ‘So­ci­ety should move to­wards a more sus­tain­able diet, but the re­spon­si­ble and safe use of novel food tech­nolo­gies needs to play a part, in­stead of be­ing per­ceived as a bar­rier.’

Are you ready for this?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.