This year we decided to conduct two surveys to gain an understanding of how the community views the applications of our project. The surveys were conducted on campus, and it was open to all for participation. This allowed not only just students on campus but workers and professors to participate in the survey. Thus, allowing a wider more encompassing range of the University of Waterloo community for analysis. We extended our range to encompass the Waterloo/Kitchener community by hosting the surveys, with permission, at the Downtown Kitchener Market . With both communities we then assessed their opinions on the following topics:
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
- Genetically modified foods
- CRISPR-cas9 system
- Genetic Engineering
Not only were we looking for their opinions but we wondered if by changing the wording from GMOs to gene editing techniques on similar questions if answers would vary. This will be discussed at the end of this page.
The link at the end of this paragraph leads you to a folder that contains all of the raw survey data and primary analysis. Note the final graphs were touched up before placed on this page and might differ the graphs found within this folder. Supplementary Survey Data and Graphs
Link to the two surveys: Attitude Survey
The following section outlines the results collected from the Attitude towards GMO survey from 60 participants. The statistics highlight participants’ opinions on the sale and consumption of genetically modified foods and organisms, as well as their thoughts on mandated labeling, further research, and safety of the technology. We have identified several correlations for further discussion in our complex analysis below. We hope this data can be used to form better strategies for presenting GMO products to the general public to ensure their viability in a consumer market.
The sample of the Kitchener/Waterloo population surveyed indicated that over half of the sample population (51.70%) were knowledgeable on GMOs (Figure A). At the extremes, 10% of the population had no knowledge of GMOs while 8.30% claimed to have expert knowledge of GMOs.
The majority of the participants indicated that they obtained their knowledge of GMOs from websites followed by the news, scientific sources, word of mouth, food labels and others (Figure B). It is important to note that without further probing into these sources, the credibility to provide unbiased information is unknown.
The participants indicated that they believed that at the minimum, of all available foods there is at least a small number that contain GM ingredients. See Figure C. However, the estimates given by the participants differed greatly as 28.30% of participants believed that 71-80% of all available foods contained GM ingredients whereas only 5% of participants believed that 0-10% of available foods contained GM ingredients.
Similar to Figure A, most participants have some awareness but not much of the difference between mutagenesis and conventional breeding. This was not surprising given that mutagenesis and conventional breeding are not discussed as much as GMOs.
The vast majority of participants (65%) agreed to the sale of GMOs with the remaining participants disagreeing to the sale of GMOs (Figure E). However, almost the entire survey population (97%) indicated they agree with continuing research in GM foods (Figure F). This indicates that they may not be ready for the sale of GM foods; however, they are in favour of continued research in the field. The population appears to be ready for the benefits that GM foods could bring in the future.
Overall, almost half of the participants (45%) indicated they would agree to have the government require GM foods to be labelled (Figure G). Most participants (78.30%) are passive and neutral towards purchasing their foods whether they are GM or not (Figure H). Interestingly, more participants avoid GM based foods (15%) than seek GM based foods (5%). This was not expected as 65% of participants agreed to the sale of GM foods (Figure D).
Over 33% of participants feel very confident in GM food safety while 28.3% of participants are somewhat confident. Given the confidence that the participants have in GM food safety, it would be expected that more consumers would seek GM foods (Figure H). Although the safety of GM foods would not necessarily correlate with sales, there was a notable difference between the participants agreeing to sales of GMOs (65%) and the participants feeling confident or somewhat confident with GM food safety.
The majority of participants were knowledgeable on GMOs and are heavily in favour of continuing research. Furthermore, participants are in favour of the sale of GM foods but indicate less confidence in GM food safety. Reassurance of GM food safety would suggest move acceptance in the sale of GM foods.
Figure A shows that Bachelor’s students feel the most confidant with their knowledge of GMOs. Whether their knowledge is scientifically sound is a much tougher issue to determine. It is interesting to see that Master’s students on average felt that they were not knowledgeable when it comes to GMOs. This could have been that they truly did know less than the average Bachelor’s student, or that they knew about the same amount as the Bachelor’s students but felt that they didn’t know enough to truly call themselves very knowledgeable.
Figure B shows that high school students and Bachelor’s students are both the most in favor of the sale of GMO foods, at 61% and 75% respectively being for their sale. Both Master’s students and those working towards professional degrees were less in favor of the sale of GMOs, at only 57% and 50% respectively being in favor with it.
Figure C shows that people who feel they know more about GMOs tend to also feel that they are safer, with no one who felt they were knowledgeable of GMOs feeling that they were not safe.
Of the above data, figure C is the most interesting because it can be used to gauge how well people’s perception of their knowledge of GMOs lines up with the scientific evidence. There were some people who felt that they were knowledgeable (scoring themselves a 3/4) who were not confidant that GMOs are safe. This likely indicates that even when someone feels they know about GMOs and their effects, they might not always obtain their information from sound science sources.
The following section outlines the results collected from the Gene Editing survey from 61 participants. The statistics highlight participants’ opinions on the sale and consumption of products that have been subjected to gene-editing, with special focus on the CRISPR-Cas9 system. The study reviews which applications and organisms have higher approval for genetic engineering, as well as thoughts on mandated labelling, further research, and safety of the technology. We have identified several correlations for further discussion in our complex analysis below. We hope this data can provide insight on the viable options for gene-editing applications based on consumer acceptance going forward.
The majority of participants had not previously heard of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing system prior to the survey. Of those that were knowledgeable on the subject, their information came from a multitude of sources. Websites, news articles, scientific journals, and word of mouth were all heavy sources of information. A breakdown of the sources is displayed in Figure B. Of note, only 3.3% of participants had gained any information about gene-editing from food labels.
On the opinion of gene editing applications, there did not appear to be an overarching preference for the technology in any specific area. In fact, there was no substantial consensus on particular applications and organisms that were sanctioned for genetic engineering, providing evidence that gene-editing is a generally validated technique among the public. Surprisingly, there was not a large skew away from applications that involve greater ethical sensitivity. For example, about 14% of participants were okay with genetically modifying humans (Figure C). Only 4.2% of participants believed no organisms should be genetically modified, suggesting a high approval rate for gene-editing technologies (Figure C).
Participants were most accepting of using genetic engineering in plants, with 31% approval. For perspective, ‘Lab Animals’ had the second greatest approval at 21%. This data is summed up in Figure C. The agriculture industry was likewise favored as an area with high approval for genetic engineering applications. Interestingly, there was dissonance with participants when asked whether they would actually consume foods that have had some degree of gene editing. Figure F demonstrates a lack of certainty in the consumption of produce with the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Only 16.4% of participants were certain with their consumption, compared to the 20% that sanctioned CRISPR-Cas9 technology for agriculture. About 30% of participants were on the fence, but overall, a greater amount were closer to consumption (5) than non-consumption (1). When asked what foods they were okay with eating in Figure G, organic foods and foods grown without pesticides held a slight majority. Interestingly, more people were okay with eating CRISPR foods than non-CRISPR foods, whereas less were okay with eating GM foods than non-GM foods. This offers a potential trend in the reputation of gene-editing over GMO technology. These results are taken in the context that the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing was not widely understood among participants, potentially causing discourse in opinions.
Participants appeared to be most compliant with using gene editing for medical and research applications, although 70% agreed that regulations for CRISPR-Cas9 should exist in a research setting.
Despite the general acceptance in using CRISPR-Cas9 and gene editing techniques in a multitude of applications and organisms, there is still an underwhelming confidence in the safety of the tool. Figure H shows that only 4.9% of participants were completely confident in saying the technology was safe. About half fell in the middle.
The data suggests that the biggest challenges facing gene-editing technologies, such as the CRISPR-Cas9 system, are the lack of understanding and awareness of the tool itself, and lack of confidence in its safety within the general public. Barring this, many people favor its use in research and industrial applications.
Figure A compares the level of education of the participant and their awareness of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Proportionately, participants’ with a Master’s degree have the greatest awareness of CRISPR-Cas9 with 57% being aware of the tool prior to completing the survey. Although, the population size of Master’s and Doctorate degrees is not large enough to draw any justifiable conclusions. Both high school and Bachelor’s degree have an awareness rating of approximately 28%. There is no clear trend between level of education and awareness of the CRISPR-Cas9 system. The level of education does not infer the subjects the participant is knowledgeable in. Someone with a degree in a biology related field would be expected to have a higher chance of being aware of the CRISPR-Cas9 system. This survey does have a location bias. Most participants represent the University of Waterloo. This data would be more diverse from a random sample population. Anyone currently in an educational institution typically has a greater chance of being up to date on current scientific developments.
Figure B and Figure C take an in depth look at how the varying levels of education have affected the organisms and applications deemed acceptable for gene-editing. These results must be interpreted while keeping in mind that the level of education does not appear to have a substantial effect on awareness or knowledge of the CRISPR-Cas9 system.
Throughout all degrees, plants have been given the highest level of approval, excluding the Doctorate degree. Doctorate degree does not have a large enough population size to be statistically significant in this analysis. Though it is interesting to note that they made a contribution to the small percentage of participants agreeing to absolutely no gene editing, they will not be referred to in the rest of this discussion. High school, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degree all have ‘none’ as the lowest level of approval. Gene-editing in humans is proportionately higher in a High School level degree than in Bachelor’s and Master’s.
In terms of the application approval, represented in Figure C, distribution trends tend to be similar among the varying levels of education. Medical applications remain the most favourable throughout high school, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degree. Following this, the general trend appears to be Research, Agriculture, Industrial, and then BioArt, with Master’s degree slightly favouring Industrial application in comparison with both High School and Bachelor’s education. These results suggest that the level of education is not an influential factor dictating opinions in organism and application approval of gene-editing technology. The similar trends imply that societal factors and influences place greater importance on the distribution pattern, rather than just individual preferences.
As previously mentioned, the majority of participants in this study were unaware of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology. Figure D analyzes the trend between knowledgeability of the CRISPR-Cas9 system and the opinion on the mandated labelling of food that has undergone gene-editing. Knowledgeability refers to awareness of the technology, but does not measure the degree of its understanding.
The participants with no knowledge of CRISPR-Cas9, highlighted in orange, demonstrate a clear trend in labeling opinions. There is a substantial preference for labeling, with an upward trend of the degree to which consumers require it. None of these participants completely disagree with labeling. This group likely has a higher propensity for labeling because they are unaware of inherent safety properties of gene-editing technology and err on the side of caution.
The participants that were aware of CRISPR-Cas9 technology had wider fluctuation with no significant trend. The variation is probably a result of the participants’ personal preference rather than a lack of awareness of the technology. It begs the question of where labelling preferences would lie if everyone received the same education on the subject. Though there is a certain correlation between unawareness and preference for food labelling, the awareness of the technology does not imply the reverse trend. This data does not consider the participants’ opinion on the safety of the technology. Those that require labelling may have stronger convictions in the safety of gene-editing and the CRISPR-Cas9 system, regardless of whether they were previously aware of the technology or not.
Figure F depicts a breakdown of the participants’ identified as being ‘pro gene-editing’ and their opinion on consuming genetically engineered foods on a scale of 1 through 5, 5 being the most comfortable. 25% of pro gene-editing participants were completely comfortable eating foods that had been subjected to some degree of gene-editing with the CRISPR-cas9 system. About 10% were in the 1-2 range, being less comfortable with consuming gene-edited produce. There is still discourse in the community between using gene-editing at a research and industry level, and actually consuming foods with this technology. Considering the scale-up of CRISPieR seeds involves crops destined for human and livestock consumption, this is important information to consider. The acceptance of gene-editing technology is still met with large fluctuations in whether it is acceptable in food.
In fact, Figure E specifically compares the acceptance of gene-editing in the field of agriculture and the acceptance of gene editing in plants. Again, there is a clear discrepancy between participants’ opinion on the organisms being subjected to gene-editing and the areas of its application. Not everyone okay with gene-editing in plants transfers this consent to the agriculture industry. 8 participants are okay with genetically engineering plants but are not okay with these plants being used in the agriculture industry. Perhaps these participants’ prefer gene-editing in plants be used for research, biofuels, medicine, or other industrial purposes. This can explain some of the discomfort in the consumption of gene-edited produce shown in Figure F. Interestingly, others that agree to gene-editing in the agriculture industry do not agree with genetically engineering plants. This may be attributed to lack of understanding or confusion surrounding the question.
Comparing the Two surveys
The following section offers a comparison of the results collected from the Gene Editing Survey and The Attitudes Toward GMOs Survey from a total of 121 participants. The data provides insights on the differences in awareness between the two technologies, their labelling preferences, and their general approval for consumption. The following analysis examines the differences in public opinion on GMO foods and foods subjected to gene-editing by the CRISPR-Cas9 system.
A greater proportion of participants had knowledge of GMOs (36/61) compared to gene editing (14/61) (Figure A). Gene editing and the specific technology of the CRISPR-cas 9 are newer concepts and are unlikely to be as commonly discussed as GMOs, leading to the opposing trend in responses.
Labeling for GMO and gene editing followed similar trends as the most responses were in agreement for labeling for each technology (Figure B). However, 25% of participants for gene editing indicated being neutral for labeling whereas 13% of participants for GMOs indicated neutral. Hesitation to label Gene edited product was unexpected given that unfamiliarity with the term would usually result in a more cautious approach.
There appears to be confusion regarding gene editing and GMO products as 40% of participants would consume gene edited products while only 5% of participants would consume GMO products (Figure C). As GMO products can use gene editing technology such as CRISPR-cas 9 system the difference between effects of the two terms on consumption is likely due to previous biases and the unfamiliarity with the concept of CRISPR-cas 9.
The response to the terms GMO and Gene editing differed greatly with regards to knowledge and for consumption of foods with the respective technologies. As knowledge of gene editing technologies such as CRISPR-cas 9 increases in the population, increasing acceptance would be expected.