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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).

We can conclude that although GM products have been in
the food industry for decades and continue to increase in use, consumer
knowledge and awareness are not improving accordingly. Careful assessment of shortfalls
in consumer knowledge of GMOs should be established that can lead to the
development of guidelines and policies to improve consumer understanding and
knowledge. Future studies should critically 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 distribute
scientific knowledge through such public media sources is of crucial importance
in order to avoid risk communication, because their explanations of
biotechnology directly inform the public. All in all, these sources should be
honest, accurate, provide both pros and cons, should only try to inform the public
and not convince them about GMOs.

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GM crops have many potential advantages of raising
agricultural productivity and reducing the need for pesticides because GM seeds
have been modified to be more resistant to insects and other pest. Even though
the seed is more expensive, these GM crops lower the costs of production by
reducing inputs of machinery, fuel, and chemical pesticides while at the same time due to more effective pest control, crop yields are
often higher (Qaim, 2010). Moreover, the
nutritional content of the crops can be altered as well, providing a denser
nutritional profile than what previous generations were able to offer. For
instance, second-generation GM crops involve enhanced quality traits, such as
higher nutrient content.  “Golden
Rice,” one of the very first GM crops, is bio fortified to address vitamin A
shortage, a common condition 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 great fears about
unexpected consequences of GM crossbreeding which involves mating between
different species. For instance, 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 some kind of disease to be spread across
different species. Another ethical issue that may arise is that of vegetarians
that do not eat food containing animal genes (Murnaghan, 2017). Additionally, there is the possibility of triggering
allergies or disease 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
from the mixing of genes from two organisms (Murnaghan, 2017). Finally, ethical concerns are also raised regarding
environmental impact such as our ability to contain 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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