YouGov Poll: UK citizens demand robust regulation of GMOs

November 18, 2022 by Staff Reporter

As the UK Government pursues radical changes to GMO regulation, a new nationwide poll shows a significant majority of adults living in the UK believe GMOs should be traceable and labelled.

The Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill is currently advancing through the House of Lords, but the results of the poll suggest there would be little support for lower regulations of so-called “precision bred organisms” compared to other GMOs in foods and farming.

According to the latest YouGov Poll, commissioned by Beyond GM, the overwhelming preference of adults in the UK is for all GMOs in the farming and food system to be regulated, traceable and labelled:

  • 79% of adults in the UK think that precision bred crops, animals and foods should be clearly labelled on the food package
  • 83% think precision bred organisms should undergo safety testing before being put on sale
  • 80% think they should undergo environmental safety testing
  • 79% think they should be traceable through the farming and food system

The new polling comes as the Government’s Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill[iii] heads for its second reading in the House of Lords next week.

The radical bill creates a new subclass of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – the Precision Bred Organism (PBO) – which the government says no longer needs to be regulated, assessed, traceable, labelled or monitored once it is in the food system. It allows GMO developers to self-certify the safety and fitness of their organisms and places minimal restrictions on the planting of PBOs. The bill applies to England only.

The term “precision bred organism” does not exist in legislation anywhere else in the world and public awareness of this term is low – 87% of adults in the UK had heard of the term GMO but 83% of those who had heard of the term GMO had never heard of a PBO. This finding is in line with the findings of the recent FSA survey of Public Attitudes Towards Precision Breeding,

Lack of awareness of this term is problematic for a meaningful public debate on such a fundamental change to farming and food regulations.

Says Beyond GM Director,Pat Thomas, “People’s unfamiliarity with the term ‘precision bred organism’ is, we believe, proportionate to how disconnected and excluded so many feel from the regulatory debate. This lack of awareness has become a justification for government and the Food Standards Agency to engage in what it calls public education. The problem is that this public education is invariably more like indoctrination, providing only the narrative and the information that the government wants citizens to have.”

For more on public disconnect with the regulatory process see the A Bigger Conversation report Filling in the Blanks – What Defra Didn’t Say.

Support for continued regulation

For this poll, unfamiliarity with the term “precision bred organism” meant a significant number of respondents answered “don’t know” to some questions. However, the overwhelming trend of the answers was towards a desire for greater regulatory control:

  • 49% thought it was unacceptable for regulations for PBOs in food and farming to be different across countries within the UK – compared to just 13% who thought this was acceptable
  • 40% opposed having lower regulations for PBOs than for other types of GMOs – compared to just 12% who supported this
  • 44% said they would prefer their food products not to contain GMOs and 42% said they would prefer their food products not to contain PBOs. Only 3% said they preferred their food products to contain either GMOs or PBOs

The Bill has passed through the House of Commons unamended despite concerns raised by policy experts, the scientific community, retailers and animal welfare groups.

No confidence in government

In this poll, a sizeable proportion of UK adults expressed a lack of confidence that the government’s plan to remove regulatory control from PBOs would bring meaningful benefits:

  • 43% were not confident the revised regulations would protect public health
  • 46% were not confident they would protect the environment
  • 45% were not confident that they would support consumers’ right to choose

These results show where the public stands on this important issue and make clear that the radical proposals put forward in this Bill require urgent amendment to secure public confidence in this technology.

The Government now has the opportunity, during the passage of the Bill in the House of Lords, to better reflect legitimate public concerns – such as those expressed in the recent Nuffield Council on Bioethics report, Public dialogue on genome editing and farmed animals – and respond to the issues of traceability, environmental concerns and consumers rights.

Says Pat Thomas, “This is a technically and scientifically flawed bill. It fails to take into account the longstanding unease and scepticism that UK adults express towards all kinds of GMOs and it fails to understand the complexity and interconnectedness of UK farming, environmental and food laws. Peers now have an opportunity to give the bill the scrutiny it did not get in the Commons and to make the significant amendments that civil society is calling for, especially around labelling, traceability and environmental safety.”

 

Note: YouGov Political Omnibus. Total sample size was 1,733 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th – 14th November 2022.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).