Public Perception of Genetically Modified Food in Ghana
A seventy question questionnaire were administered to (1,200) respondents to find out the perceptions of the Ghanaian public on Genetically modified foods (GM Foods). The questionnaires which covered wide range of issues and structured such that a complete picture of the understanding and perceptions of the respondents would clearly come out, were administered between March 2009 to September 2009. The respondents cut across sectors of the country (Academics, Researchers, Government ministry workers and ordinary Ghanaians) to ensure a good representation of the public. Three hundred people were selected from each of the four categories. Even though more than 60% of respondents from all the categories had heard of GM food, the level of knowledge for most of the respondents was rated as low or average. This was because apart from 50 and 60%, respectively of academics and researchers who had heard of GM foods from workshops, most of the respondents had heard of GM foods from friends, who themselves may not have had a better understanding of GM foods. More than 80% of the respondents from government ministry workers and the ordinary Ghanaian category were unwilling to accept GM foods and their rejection was based on the fear of unknown side effects and on ethical considerations. It was evident that there is the need for a more comprehensive public education and debates to improve the perceptions of the public on GM foods.
September 26, 2010; Accepted: November 15, 2010;
Published: February 07, 2011
The term Genetically Modified Foods (GM Food) is most commonly used to refer
to crop plants that are created for human or animal consumption using the latest
molecular biology techniques. It usually involves the transfer of genes from
one plant to another and in extreme cases, the transfer of animal genes into
plants, for example the Bt. Corn (Saxena and Stotzky, 2001).
This aspect of biotechnology has over the years generated debates and arguments
and a good number of people including the better informed section of the public
seem to be confused about the benefits and dangers of the use of GM foods.
This emerging technology is often viewed as the key to the next green revolution
which has the potential to fundamentally alter the way the society organizes
its production and distribution of food. It is widely recognized that biotechnology
is one of the most innovative technologies developed in the 20th century with
even more promising future in the 21st Century. Many GM products (rice with
enhanced vitamin A, long lasting fruits and vegetables) have already entered
the worlds food distribution networks. These products have the potential
to not only meet our basic needs, but also bring a wide range of economic, environmental
and health benefits. Biotechnology advocates emphasize the potential benefits
to society via reduction of hunger and malnutrition, prevention and cure of
diseases and promotion of health and general well being (Isserman,
2001), UNDP, (2001) have reported that many GM crop
varieties have shown superiority over conventionally grown crops in terms of
yield, pests and disease resistance, nutritional improvement and longer shelf
life. With many nations in the developing world already struggling to meet their
citizens food and nutritional needs and with global populations slated
to increase by 50% between 2006 and 2050, GM foods have attracted growing attention
(Quaye et al., 2009). Proponents of the GM technology
hold the view that anti-GM food attitudes are uniformed, emotionally driven
and fostered by both media hysteria and non governmental organizations that
are opposed to biotechnology in general (Hoban, 1998;
Marchant, 2001). They contended that if citizens had
more accurate scientific information and were made more aware of the benefits
of GM foods, support from the public would increase. Despite its promise to
bring significant benefits to society, public acceptance of biotechnology has
been with mixed feelings (Einsiedel, 1997; Kassadjian
et al., 2005). It has been argued that modern genetic technologies
may allow developed countries to produce commodities that are currently imported
from developing countries. Such developments, it is claimed, will have significant
negative effects on poverty situation in the third world and lead to global
instability (Galhardi, 1995). Critics of biotechnology/GM
foods insist that these new technologies have potential threat to human life,
to existing plant and animal species (biodiversity) and to the environment.
Even though opponents of GM foods agree that GM crops produce better yield,
they stress that cataclysmic risks to public health, safety and the environment
are inherent in GM research, production and commercialization. The most prominent
among them being the potential of GM foods to create new allergies or harmful
toxins that may cause sickness and death among vulnerable populations (Pusztai,
2001; Paarlberg, 2006). They insist that such foods
could pose risks to health and the environment. Another argument by the opponents
of GM foods is that; Most testing is carried out by the very biotech companies
that have the most to gain from results that say GM food is safe. Growing GM
crops also threatens wildlife and the production of GM-free foods. Moreover,
some GM crops that produces their own antibiotics against bacteria could have
adverse effect on the human bodys response to antibiotics in times of
need. Opponents view its use as a needless interference with nature that may
lead to unknown and potentially disastrous consequences (Rohrmann
and Renn, 2000). Some resist the use of genetic technologies in agricultural
production alleging (perceived) risks to humans and environment, while others
oppose it citing moral, ethical and social concerns (Winterfeldt
and Edwards, 1984). Biotechnology is often criticized on the ground that
man is trying to play God and that its use in plants and animals, especially
gene transfer across species, take us to realms of God and against Law of nature.
Some argue that since genes are naturally occurring entities that can be discovered
(not invented), granting patent ownership to genetic findings and processes
is morally and ethically untenable (Hallman et al.,
2001). Africa as a developing continent and viewed as the continent where
hunger prevails, is emerging as one of the frontlines in the battle for acceptance
of agricultural biotechnology and GM food. For Africa, the debate is occurring
at a crucial time when incidence of food insecurity, poverty and malnutrition
are particularly devastating (FAO, 2003). The local policy
makers, who will ultimately decide on the future of biotechnology, including
genetically modified foods, are being pushed and pulled in both directions.
Only a few countries, namely Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda
and Zimbabwe are involved in some form of biotechnology research or (at least
for South Africa) commercial use, especially in crop agriculture (African Agricultural
technology foundation, www.aatf-africa.org).
Given the significance of the subject, full understanding of public interests
and concerns is needed to arrive at sound private and public decisions pertaining
to food biotechnology. A lot of research has been done on public perception
of agricultural biotechnology in industrialized countries (Yawson
et al., 2008; Juma, 2002; Shanahan
et al., 2001; Gaskell et al., 2000;
Kalaitzandonakes, 2000; Sagar et
al., 2000; Watanabe, 1985). However, the same
cannot be said about developing countries. In Ghana for instance, there has
been workshops and conferences on GM food by scientists, sponsored largely by
developed countries where these GM foods are created. There has however not
been a serious public education or debate on the issue to find out how the public
feels and views the use of GM food. Such views are important since it has a
bearing on GM policy formulations. For example, a survey of consumer acceptance
of GM foods in Japan, Norway, Taiwan and the United States showed wide differences
in consumer acceptance across countries (Chern and Rickersten,
2002). This study therefore looks at the perception of the Ghanaian public
on GM food research and use with the following objectives:
||To investigate the level of willingness of the public in the
use biotechnology/GM foods and the social implications
||To examine the extent of usefulness of biotechnology in solving
food problems in Africa as perceived by the public.
||To determine the level of awareness of the Ghanaian public
on Biotechnology and GM Foods
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A total of one thousand two hundred people were interviewed from the Ghanaian
adult population. The different segments covered included the academia (Universities),
research scientists from the countries research institutes, government ministries
and ordinary Ghanaians who are literates. Three hundred people were selected
from each section mentioned above. The sampling of the ordinary Ghanaian cut
across people from areas of work which does not belong to the groups mentioned
above but who were literates to understand the issues in the questionnaire.
The four categories of respondents for this work were chosen to ensure that
almost every segment of the Ghanaian population was covered.
The approach used allows conducting a survey on public risk perception in a
country with low awareness of agricultural biotechnology (Quaye
et al., 2009). Structured questionnaire was designed for data collection
on the set objectives which include level of willingness to use GM products,
perceptions of the usefulness of biotechnology, level of interest in biotechnology
research and how to improve the level of acceptance among the Ghanaian public.
Each questionnaire comprised of a total of seventy questions and the questions
covered wide range of issues and were structured such that a complete picture
of the understanding and perception of the respondents would come out clearly.
Each questionnaire had four main sections which covered, Demographic data, Knowledge
and source of knowledge on GM foods, perceived risks and willingness to buy
and use GM foods and support for Gm research and trust for government agencies
to handle issues of GM foods. Samples of the questions for the various categories
are provided in Table 1.
The entire 1,200 questionnaire were administered and retrieved. Statistical
Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 17 and Microsoft excel were used
to analyze the data collected.
All the respondents from the various categories were able to participate in
the interview Table 2.
|| Sample questions of the questionnaires administered
||Percentage participation of the categories of participants
in the interview
|M: Male respondents, F: Female respondents
People from four different categories (Academia, Research Institutions, Government
Ministries and the ordinary Ghanaian) constituted the respondents. Respondents
were asked whether they had heard about Biotechnology and Genetically Modified
Foods (GM foods). All the respondents (100%) from the academia and research
institutes had heard about Biotechnology and GM foods. Eighty-nine and sixty-eight
percent of respondents from Government ministries and the ordinary Ghanaians,
respectively also indicated that they had heard about Biotechnology and GM foods
Majority of respondents from Government ministries and the ordinary Ghanaians;
46 and 90% respectively, had heard of GM foods from friends as indicated in
Workshops and friends were the main sources of information on biotechnology
and GM foods for respondents from research institutes and academia. Almost 60%
of respondents from the research institutes had heard about GM foods from workshops
they attended and media (print) accounted for only 15%. For those in the academia,
55 and 5% heard of GM foods from workshops and through the media, whilst 40%
heard about GM foods from friends. The electronic media (radio and television)
had not been a source of information for any of the respondents.
|| Percentage of respondents who had heard about Biotechnology
and GM foods
||Sources of information on Biotechnology and GM Foods
There was a clear distinction between the knowledge level of respondents from
academia and research institutes on one side and those from government ministries
and ordinary Ghanaians on the other. Whilst most of the respondents from academia
and the research institutes rated their level of knowledge between excellent
and average, those in the government ministries and Ordinary Ghanaians rated
theirs between average and low. Out of the four categories of respondents, 55%
from the government ministries rated their level of knowledge as Low, compared
to 35, 10 and 25% from the Ordinary Ghanaian, respondents from research institutes
and the academia, respectively (Fig. 3).
When respondents were asked about their interest in issues concerning Biotechnology
and GM foods, 50% or more from all the categories indicated that they were interested
(Fig. 4). The level of interest was high among the academia
82% and those from research institutes 68%.
It was observed that very small percentage between 3-13% from all the groups
indicated that they were not interested in the issues of Biotechnology and GM
||Respondents rating of their level of knowledge in Biotechnology
and GM Foods
||Level of interest of respondents in issues concerning Biotechnology
and GM Foods
This trend was similar to the responses given by the respondents about how
concerned they were, with regards to GM Foods in our supermarkets (Fig.
Ninety-three percent and eighty-one percent of academics and researchers, respectively,
responded that they were very concerned or somehow concerned. Seventy-one percent
and 69% of respondents from government ministries and ordinary Ghanaians also
indicated that they were very concerned about GM foods.
The four categories of respondents were again divided with respect to their
acceptance of GM foods (Fig. 6). Ninety-five percent of Respondents
from government ministries and 90% of respondents from the ordinary Ghanaian
category indicated strong unwillingness to accept Biotechnology and GM foods.
On the other hand, 60 and 45% respectively of respondents from research institutes
and academia indicated their acceptance for GM Foods. Fifty-five percent (55%)
of academia and almost 40% of those from research institutes indicated that
they will not accept GM Foods or were not sure about accepting or not accepting.
||Respondents level of concern about issues of Biotechnology
and Gm foods
||Respondents willingness to accept GM Foods
Majority of the respondents from all the four categories based their rejection
of GM Foods on the fear of side effects. Eighty-six percent of academics gave
the fear of side effects as their reason for not accepting GM Foods, compared
to 73% each from the three other categories (Fig. 7).
Religious considerations were very minimal among the academics (2%) compared
to 20% each from respondents of the research institutes and ordinary Ghanaians.
Very small percentages could not assign reasons for their objection to GM Foods.
Less than 10% each from government ministries and ordinary Ghanaian respondents
agreed that GM research should be supported financially. Over 90% of respondents
from the two categories supported the banning of GM research in Ghana as shown
in Fig. 8.
On the other hand, 70 and 68% of respondents from academia and research institutes
supported the funding of GM research. More than 20% of respondents from research
institutes were not sure of their position on the funding of GM research in
More females had an overall negative perception towards GM foods than their
male counterparts (Table 3). Sixty percent of the female respondents
were negative on issues of GM compared to 30% for the males. On the other hand,
more of the male respondents showed positive attitudes towards GM foods.
||Reasons for rejection of GM Foods
||Respondents support for the funding of GM research in
||Gender perception towards GM foods
Issues of GM foods and technology are a very important one worldwide and since
its inception, people of different countries and sexes have been concerned and
shown interest. This will explain why in this work, all the respondents showed
interest in participating in the interview.
Most of the respondents interviewed from all the categories had heard about
Biotechnology and GM food. The fact that they had heard about Biotechnology
and GM food did not seem to reflect in their knowledge level because a good
number of those interviewed from the four categories rated their knowledge level
between average and low. The underlying reasons for this could well be their
sources of information. Friends were one of the major sources of information
on GM foods and biotechnology for all the categories of respondents. It is possible
that the friends, who were the sources of information themselves, had very little
knowledge and understanding beyond the mentioning of the technologies therefore,
little or no education went on. On the contrary, those who had their information
from workshops rated their knowledge level as excellent or average. The media
(print or electronic) contributed very little to the knowledge levels of the
respondents. In this study, friends and workshops had been the main sources
of information for the respondents. In the work of Frewer
et al. (2002) however, the use of television, radio, newspapers and
public lectures were the main sources of information for Chinese respondents.
According to Curtis et al. (2003), the use of
these avenues by the Chinese government has been very successful in educating
the public because only 9.3% of the respondents in China had a somewhat negative
opinion concerning GM food, compared to the over 50% of respondents in Ghana.
Again, in the work of McCluskey and Swinnen (2004),
television was the main source of information for their respondents. The use
of television and radio will be effective tools in Ghana because every household
in Ghana either has a Television or radio. Therefore if issues of Biotechnology
and GM food are explained in English and the local dialects on radio and television,
it will offer better sources of information to the public and also enhance their
level of understanding about issues of GM foods.
Majority of the respondents from all the four categories expressed their interest
in issues of GM foods and were willing to participate or attend public lectures
on GM foods. In the same way, a good number also indicated that they were concerned
about issues of GM foods. This observation is similar to the work of Wanskin
and Kim (2001) and Aermi (2000) who reported that
80% of their respondents expressed interest to participate in public lectures
or debate on GM food. This goes to confirm that Biotechnology and GM food are
topics of global concern and public education is a necessity for a better understanding
of the issues involved. Over 80% of the respondents from the ordinary Ghanaian
category and 90% of those from the government ministries indicated their total
rejection of GM foods. Even in the categories of academics and research institutes
where most of them had rated their knowledge level as excellent or average,
over 50 and 40%, respectively indicated they will not accept or were not sure
whether they will accept or not. This was similar to work done by Quaye
et al., (2009) who reported that close to 50% of respondents in Ghana
were not in favour of accepting GM foods. The acceptance or rejection of GM
foods tended to reflect on the level of knowledge of the respondents because
more of the respondents from the academia and research institutes indicated
they will accept GM food compared to the over 80% from the government ministries
and ordinary Ghanaian groups that rejected GM foods. Baker
and Burnham (2001) have similarly reported that consumers cognitive
variables like educational level tended to influence their acceptance of GM
foods. Sjoberg (2008) had also said that experts and
scientist saw GM technology as good whilst the public saw it as the worst technology.
Legge and Durant (2010) had also similarly reported
that it is very common to find very large differences between experts and the
public when it comes to acceptance of GM technology. Contrary to the findings
of this study however, Rowe (2004) had reported that
the level of knowledge was not influential in accepting or rejecting GM food
and that the educated were more opposed to GM technology than those with little
knowledge. This is not surprising because educated people are more analytical
and so will have more questions on any technology than the less educated. This
will be different when one is not just educated but an expert on a technology.
Some of the academia as well as those in the research institutes also indicated
their rejection for GM food. This shows that the issues of biotechnology and
GM food are very complex therefore the knowledge just of it, is not enough to
give someone a good understanding. This is collaborated by Legge
and Durant 2010. Therefore, for the public to understand the issues of GM
food there must be intensive public debate and lectures spear headed by the
government and research institutes. Since, 1998, six nations led by France,
prompted and sustained a de facto EU moratorium on the approval of new GM crops
until public confidence in the GM technology is restored. It was supported by
the fact that, only with more trust in the information afforded to the public
could government policy on GM hold. (Braun, 2002). Governments
in France and the UK, therefore launched public participation and consultative
exercises involving the citizens in 1998 and 2003, respectively (Kelly,
2003; Lieberman and Taylor, 2005).
The fear of unknown side effects and religious inclinations were the major
reasons for the rejection of GM food by the respondents. More than 70% from
all the four categories involved in the survey based their rejection on the
fear of unknown side effects which were mainly in the area of health and environment.
This observation is supported by Townsend and Campbell (2004),
Poortinga and Pigeon (2005) all of who had reported
in their work that one of the major reasons why respondents in their work would
not accept GM food was on health risks. On the contrary, Hallman
et al. (2001) and Frewer et al. (2002)
reported that majority of respondents in America and China think that the GM
Food and technology can bring immense health benefits to the public. This could
be due to the fact that, public education in America and China has been extensive
and comprehensive to allay the fears of the general public. In fact, Li
et al. (2003) had reported that in China, consumers were willing
to pay a 16% premium for GM soybean oil and a 38% premium for GM rice over the
non-GM rice and attributed this to effective public education by the government.
On the contrary however, Noussair et al. (2004)
had reported that French consumers were willing to buy GM foods if it was cheaper
than non-GM foods. Schuler and Orozo (2007) had also
reported that respondents in Columbia were willing to try GM food because it
was good for them.
There are other reasons apart from health risks that had been given elsewhere
as well as in Ghana for the rejection of the GM technology. Moon
and Balasubramanian (2003) and Quaye et al. (2009).
had reported that the public was concerned that GM will only benefit the big
multinational companies coupled with the lack of public trust for their government
(Durant and Legge, 2005). Other factors had been that
farmers will lose focus on the traditional ways of cultivating crops, research
institutes are not well equipped to deal with issues of GM in Africa and Ghana
and also that the technologies are not tailored towards the African environmental
needs Quaye et al. (2009) Ruivenkamp,
2005; Feenberg 1999, 2002 and 2005. About 20% each
from the research institutes and the ordinary Ghanaian groups and 10% of respondents
from the government ministries rejected the GM foods based on religious and
ethical reasons. The rejection of GM technology based on religious reasons seems
to be a global trend. Wanskin and Kim (2001) reported
that respondents in their work rejected GM foods based on religious reasons.
Moon and Balasubramanian (2003), Subrahmanyan
and Chen (2000) had reported the same in the Philippines and Singapore respectively,
that consumer acceptance of GM food was significantly related not only to their
perceptions of risks and benefits but also to their moral, ethical and religious
Whilst the majority of respondents from the academic and research institutes
supported the funding of GM research, there was an overwhelming rejection of
Governments funding of GM research by respondents from the government
ministries and the ordinary Ghanaian categories. This observation related very
well to their willingness to accept or reject GM food. This observation is contrary
to the work of Quaye et al. (2009) whose respondents did not call for
a ban on GM research but rather called for a strengthening of government regulatory
bodies. This is not surprising because her respondents were all from a class
of people that had something to do with GM food whilst this work involved people
from all sectors of the country.
Women gave an overall negative perception of GM foods than men and this finding
is supported by other researchers. Von Roten and Alvarez
(2008) and Anunda et al. (2010) have all
reported that women show negative attitudes and rejection of GM foods than men
and that the arguments in favour of GM foods seem to be less appealing to women
than to men. These differences are not explained by a lack of knowledge about
genetics but they may partially be explained by trust and values variations.
Thus the myth of the nurturing woman still remains deep-rooted in our social
spirit and in the posture of the priviledged managers of the domestic universe,
which makes GM foods of principal concern to woman (Von Roten
and Alvarez, 2008). Moreover, women are mostly those who shop for the food
needs of most households and have been shown to be very concerned and selective
when it comes to foods (Anunda et al., 2010).
It is obvious from the results of this study that, there is the need for an
extensive and more comprehensive public education and debate on the issues of
GM technology. This public education should be able to bring a better understanding
to most women to change their present perception since most of them had a negative
perception towards GM food. It is possible that the rejection by some of the
respondents of the GM technology and the call for government not to support
GM research has been due to the lack of proper understanding of the whole GM
technology. This has been shown by Ruivenkamp (2005)
and Zhong et al. (2002) where the level of acceptance
of Gm food by respondents increased from 60 to 84.9% and from 69 to 89%, respectively.
The debate on food security and potential risk of biotechnology demand starting
wide and comprehensive education porgrammes to promote an open dialogue among
scientists, opinion leaders, mass media that would act as the basis to support
the technological shift. Consumer acceptance of GM foods is complex and diverse
across cultures as reported by Braun (2002) and Blaine
et al. (2002). Government must therefore formulate public educational
strategies with due consideration to the public fears and perception and these
could have a positive impact on the perceptions and fears of the public concerning
It has been evident that public education on GM foods and technology has been
very scanty in Ghana. The media (electronic and print) which many of the Ghanaian
population use have not been used effectively as sources of information on GM
foods for the public. Friends have rather been a major source of information
for most people. This has resulted in the respondents showing their unwillingness
to accept GM food. Workshops are organized for a specialized group of people
and does not constitute a major public education avenue. For the public to understand
the issues of GM food, there must be active public education schemes since this
will change public perception, increase acceptance and promote the success of
government policies on the use GM food and technology in Ghana.
The author is grateful to Mr. Josiah and Paul Agu Asare who provided the statistical
package for the analysis of the data. The effort of Daniel Ayota, Selorm Hotor,
Aryiku Nocholas and Emmanuel Amos in helping to administer the questionnaire
is also much appreciated.
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