GMOs (genetically modified organisms), have been in the headlines a lot recently. Most notably, Kashi has experienced a wave of consumer and media backlash about their use of GMOs in a cereal marketed as natural. And in California, a group is pursuing a ballot initiative this November which would require the labeling of GMOs on food products.
The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines a genetically modified organism as “a plant or animal whose structure has been changed by scientists so that it can be produced more effectively.” A more appropriate term for what I’m talking about here is “genetically modified foods.” While humans have altered food products for thousands of years through natural means (such as cross- fertilization and pasteurization of milk), today’s modifications are about more recent advances – such as the ‘Flavr Savr’ genetically modified tomato first introduced to the U.S. in 1994.
The primary argument in favor of genetic modification is based upon the potential it offers for feeding an ever-increasing world population, estimated to reach about 9 billion around 2050. And GMOs, which boost crop output, have already made significant inroads into feeding the American population. According to the USDA, Herbicide-tolerant (HT) corn, developed to survive herbicide applications targeted at weeds, account for roughly three-quarters of planted corn acres. HT soybeans account for over 90% of planted acres. Insect repellent crops, such as Bt corn, are also becoming more popular as well.
Another benefit of GMOs is the extended shelf life they enable. That benefit, in turn, has a positive impact on another very important sustainability issue: food waste. Nearly 500 pounds of food is thrown out by the average American household annually – which accounts for roughly 14% of our total landfill waste.
In the next two posts, two of my colleagues will look at the GMO issue through the mindset of two of our consumer segment groups: Actives and Seekers. From concerns about the long-term health ramifications to the potential of making food stuffs more resilient to disease or drought, they’ll examine how both segments view genetically modified food — which should help you better understand how to position/talk about GMO’s depending on the audience that’s the best fit with your brand. Check it out.