Feed Bites

Polls Reveal New Pragmatism Around Ag Biotech

Written by: Guest   |   December 21, 2023

ag & food research

 

Lynne Finnerty, director of agriculture and environment communications for BIO, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization

This year’s United Nations Climate Conference turned the spotlight on food and agriculture, with a full day devoted to recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from farming and shielding agriculture from the worst impacts of climate change. The focus on food and agriculture in the context of climate must include a look at the many ways in which biotechnology is delivering solutions, from animal feed engineered to reduce methane emissions from livestock, to crops that are bioengineered to withstand growing pressures from disease and drought.

Two new polls from the Biotechnology Innovation Organization find that the majority of Americans recognize the important role biotech plays in addressing climate change—and other societal challenges.

As we face the question of how to feed a growing population in a warming world, the non-science-based skepticism of “genetically modified organisms” seems naïve—almost quaint. Now, there seems to be a growing realization that we don’t have the luxury of rejecting technology that just might save our planet, and our full plates.

BIO’s latest poll, conducted in November, found that 78% of Americans are confident that biotech innovation will play a positive role in promoting food security and 75% believe it will help promote public health, in the face of climate change. These findings follow a poll that BIO conducted in July showing that the majority (62%) of Americans hold a favorable opinion of ag biotechnology and its benefits—with 83% of respondents saying that feeding more people while using fewer natural resources and less fuel is an important benefit.

A lot has changed since the first biotech crop, the Bt potato, was approved for cultivation in the United States, 28 years ago. We’ve weathered a pandemic that hit supply chains hard. And more people are coming to terms with the reality of climate change and increasingly extreme weather, putting food security and the need for climate-smart farming in the spotlight.

We’ve all felt a shift in attitudes. However, we didn’t have data to back up our assumptions. So, this year, BIO commissioned our first poll in years on Americans’ views toward ag biotech. The results were reassuring.

Not only did the majority of respondents show strong support for biotech innovation, but two-thirds of them agreed that the government’s regulatory processes should help, not hinder, bringing these innovations to market. And 80% of respondents said their views of ag biotech are more positive than in the past—especially as they’ve learned more about the technologies and why they’re necessary to address a warming climate, a growing population and food security.

Public opinion always has been made up of shifting sands; now, the tides seem to be changing in response to greater global forces. That’s why we must continue sharing information about biotechnology’s role in strengthening food security and climate resilience, including productive crops, longer-lasting produce to reduce food waste, alternatives to synthetic fertilizers, microbial crop protection, animal feed additives that support digestive efficiency, and biobased materials that can reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

While polls showing that people are growing more supportive of biotechnology are heartening, we must also take to heart that the results could be viewed from the other side of the bar graph—62% holding a favorable view of ag biotech means 38%, far too many, remain fearful, skeptical or unaware of the benefits.

The industry’s work to inform consumers about the safety and benefits of biotechnology has been effective—and we need more of it.

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