The question is simple: Is the market place ready for GMO fruits and vegetables?
How can growers/marketers prepare consumers/retailers for introduction of GMO varieties in coming years?
It is a question I posed to the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group not long ago, and this particular discussion was one of the more rigorous and spirited in the history of the group.
There is a persistent belief consumers will exhibit an active "anti GMO" attitude in regard to biotech fruits and vegetables. That is, unless the biotech designation is unspoken and stealthy (hello biotech sweet corn at road side stands), some segment of consumers will punish retailers who sell genetically modified fruits and vegetables, making life generally unhappy.
Where farmers look at the bottom line, consumers have a range of concerns and values that might conflict with perceptions of GMOs. Anti GMO groups will seek to inflame these, and retailers and everyone else in the supply chain will be looking to minimize risks.
Industry needs to start communicating better on GMOs with consumers. Where farmers have been the main audience, Industry will need a different strategy and a different voice in reaching out to consumers. Social media will be key, as will engaging appropriate pundits. The oddly worded and neatly typed press release isn't going to cut it any more. Frankly, I don't see Industry gearing up to do this.
Consumers will accept GMO fruits and vegetables. Virus-resistant sweet corn and papaya have long been on the market, as has Bt sweet corn. They have largely flown under the radar screen for most folks. As more prominent products are brought to market, it is going to take some skillful, and honest, PR efforts to bring consumers around.
TK: Bradley mentions the virus resistant papaya. It is notable that the Japanese government has approved the Rainbow papaya from Hawaii, a biotech papaya modified to resist the ringspot virus. This USDA FAS report talks about the market opening, which included, by the way, some "skillful and honest PR efforts." From the USDA: