Consumer attitudes towards innovative agricultural technologies

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) recently conducted a survey and focus groups with consumers to explore Canadians’ perceptions and attitudes towards emerging agricultural technologies and their applications in the sector. The previous wave of this study was conducted in 2016 allowing AAFC to track Canadians’ attitudes over time. The results also provide insights into Canadians’ knowledge and awareness of new technologies that did not exist or were emerging at the time of previous research.

This year’s study explored Canadians’ views on biotechnology, biofuels, gene-editing and cellular agriculture. For the purpose of the study, these terms were defined as:

  • Biotechnology: involves engineering living organisms, such as plants and animals, or parts of living organisms to produce useful products, such as, medicines or creating plants that are not affected by pests or insects.
  • Biofuels: uses biological materials such as plants, wood and waste to produce fuels that can be used for cars, trains, airplanes, or to heat and power buildings.
  • Gene-editing: involves making small changes to a cell’s gene structure and does not necessarily involve mixing together DNA from different species of plants or animals. Gene-editing is often used for medical and agricultural purposes.
  • Cellular agriculture: involves making animal products such as meat, seafood, dairy, or leather from animal cell cultures instead of using live animals.
  • For more elaborate definitions of these terms, please see the final report.

Key Findings

Biotechnology and biofuels:

  • Despite consumers stating a low level of familiarity with biotechnology (52%, down 4%), support for biotechnology has reached an all-time high (79%, up 8%) compared to previous waves of the study. Canadians who state that they are very familiar with biotechnology are significantly more likely to feel positive about it (75% versus 23% who are not familiar).
  • Familiarity with biotechnology regulation remains low (22%, up 1%), although consumers increasingly perceive the safety and regulation of biotechnology as strict (57%, up 10%).
  • Despite fairly low familiarity (57%, up 3%) more than 8 in 10 Canadians (80%) say they support making biofuels with non-food sources. Support was lower, but rising for biofuels made from crops that are also a source of food (58%, up 5%).

Gene-editing and cellular agriculture:

  • A minority (40%, up 6%) of Canadians say they are familiar with gene-editing and less than half (45%, up 7%) believe it is beneficial to society.
  • Familiarity with cellular agriculture is very low (32%) and awareness among focus group participants was nearly non-existent or misunderstood. After being provided a definition of cellular agriculture, Canadians say they are less likely to support its use to create food products such as meat, milk, or eggs (47%) and are more likely to support its use to create non-food products, such as leather (62%).

Want to know more? The final report is now available online at Library and Archives Canada.


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