galline bianche

Once you couldn’t eat…

A consumer survey conducted in Great Britain highlighted the importance of a better relationship between the public and science. Especially for agriculture and food production.

Science for Sustainable Agriculture ( revealed the existence of a great lack of awareness among consumers (British in this case, but intuitively also concerning many citizens of other countries) about where food comes from and how much scientific innovation there is in its development and production.

The independent survey, carried out by England Marketing Ltd, ‘took a snapshot’ of consumer attitudes and awareness of scientific intervention in agriculture and food production using the England Marketing Panel, made up of people with a specific interest in food, agriculture and sustainability, to obtain results that were above average in terms of awareness and understanding.

However, it turned out that consumers who consider themselves well-informed about the meaning of ‘natural’ and ‘sustainable’ in food, are largely unaware of the level of scientific intervention in fresh produce and basic ingredients, tending to consider them unaffected by human intervention. The panel was astonished to discover that the truly ‘natural’ (original) versions of everyday foods (such as sweet corn, carrots and bananas) are actually unrecognisable and inedible compared to their modern equivalents and that it is scientific intervention that has made them as we know them today. With the exception of bananas and oranges, most believe that crops such as wheat, barley, oats, sugar beet and potatoes all originated in Britain rather than coming from other parts of the world such as wheat, barley and oats from the Middle East, potatoes from South America and sugar beet from Central Europe.

All the fruits of the earth have actually been adapted to our growing needs and markets through the extraordinary capacities of analysis, scientific intervention and human ingenuity. Many of today’s food crops bear only a vague resemblance to their ‘wild’ or ‘natural’ versions.

On food and agricultural innovations, many reported that they do not clearly understand scientific information due to too many technical terms and the lack of publicly accessible information. 88% of the sample believe that it should be the government that provides information on scientific developments in food production, but – in contrast – only 11% believe that the government is a reliable source. Farmers and scientists from the public/academic sector are considered more trustworthy (68% and 59% respectively say they would trust information on the use of science in agriculture and food production from these sources). In contrast, less than 28% trust information from scientists working in industry. Respondents are generally interested in sustainable agriculture and food production, believing that information should be more accessible and communicated in clearer and simpler terms. Older generations tend to be more involved and informed on the topic of sustainable agriculture, although millennials are also starting to talk more about the climate crisis.

All this raises legitimate questions about the validity of current public discussions on issues such as precision breeding, if most consumers seem unaware of the level of scientific intervention that has already entered into the development of our everyday foods. As the world becomes ‘hotter’ and people become hungrier, more timely and effective communication about the role of science in food and agriculture will be increasingly crucial. We need communication from reliable sources, using correct language and terminology.

The Editor

Image from Science for Sustainable Agriculture