N.Y. Berry Growers' Attitudes Regarding Genetically Modified Crops|
Genetic engineering is a technology that involves moving a gene from one organism into a crop plant in order to obtain a useful trait that might not otherwise exist in related plants. Useful traits might include pest resistance, herbicide resistance, increased nutrient levels, and improved product quality. Most agree that this technology will likely benefit large farms producing commodities such as corn, soybeans and cotton. The American Farm Bureau, which represents these types of farms, has a position statement that strongly supports research and implementation of genetic engineering technology. Several companies in California are now developing genetically-engineered strawberry varieties for the major production areas of the world, so the technology will soon become available for growers of minor crops. But how do small berry farmers who directly market to consumers feel about this technology?
A survey was conducted on 6 Feb. 2001 with 48 berry growers who also market their crops directly to the consumer. These growers were surveyed while they were attending the New York State Direct Marketing Conference. Growers were asked to register their level of agreement with 10 statements on a scale of: strongly agree, somewhat agree, neutral, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree.
Genetic engineering will have a positive impact on my farming practices in the future. By a 3:1 ratio growers agreed with this statement, with a majority of this group registering strong agreement. Only 17% were neutral.
Genetic engineering has the potential to help me reduce my labor costs. Growers agreed with this statement by an 8:1 ratio, with a majority of this group registering strong agreement. Only 10% were neutral.
Genetic engineering has the potential to help me reduce my pesticide use. A high percentage of respondents believed that this could be true. More than 53% strongly agreed and 32% somewhat agreed with this statement.
Genetic engineering has the potential to help me increase the quality of my products. Although 64% agreed with this statement, only 29% strongly agreed.
Although genetic engineering has potential benefits for agriculture, it will mostly benefit large-scale farmers. Berry growers were nearly equally divided over this statement, with 50% disagreeing (15% were neutral).
I am worried that a significant number of my customers will not accept any genetically-engineered fruits and vegetables that I would grow. A large number of growers (73%) agreed with this statement (11% disagreed). Customer acceptance is clearly the issue of most concern to growers who might favor implementing this technology.
I am worried that if we make crops easier to grow (e.g. Roundup Ready strawberries), that too many people will start producing them and the price will fall. More than 60% of growers agreed with this statement, making it the second greatest concern for those who support the technology.
I am concerned that genetically-engineered fruits and vegetables will not be safe for my family or my customers to consume. Over 50% of the survey group disagreed with this statement. Twenty-two % were neutral, while only 7% strongly agreed with the statement.
I am concerned that certain "engineered" genes might escape and "contaminate" wild populations of plants. This is an issue that many growers had not thought about before. One-third were neutral on this issue, and the rest were split in their opinion. Only 25% registered a strong sentiment either way.
I would never plant genetically-engineered varieties regardless of their performance. This statement registered the strongest level of disagreement. Fifty percent strongly disagreed and 22% somewhat disagreed. Only 11% strongly agreed.
Growers were asked to list one trait that they wish could be engineered into a berry plant. If you could wish for one trait to be engineered into a berry plant, what would that trait be? A large number (41%) listed weed/herbicide resistance, 30% listed disease resistance and 19% listed insect resistance. Growers did not prioritize quality factors such as increased nutrient content or firmness.
New York growers who market berries directly to consumers are generally supportive of efforts to genetically engineer crop plants, particularly if it enhances their ability to control weeds. Most believe that genetic engineering will have a positive impact on their farming operation, particularly in terms of pest management, although most are clearly worried about consumer acceptance. Growers also believe that the technology will reduce labor costs, but are somewhat concerned that this could lead to overproduction. Most are not concerned about food safety, and the issue of gene contamination of wild populations is one that growers do not have strong feelings about, likely from lack of press coverage about this issue. Although berry growers are concerned about certain issues related to genetically-engineered crops, few are willing to not consider their use on the farm at some time in the future.
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