September 15, 2011
Consumers Want Genetic Boosts Of Food Antioxidants?

While genetic modification of crops elicits considerable opposition in Europe the opposition is much less in the United States. An Iowa State economist says in a survey he did consumers indicate they would pay more for crops genetic engineered to contain more antioxidants.

AMES, Iowa - Consumers are eager to get their hands on, and teeth into, foods that are genetically modified to increase health benefits - and even pay more for the opportunity.

A study by Iowa State University researcher Wallace Huffman shows that when consumers are presented with produce enhanced with consumer traits through intragenic means, they will pay significantly more than for plain produce.

By "intragenic" they mean genes that are transferred within species. Most of these sorts of transfers could be done with conventional breeding programs, albeit with much longer time spans than the amount of time it takes to do genetic manipulations in a lab. Our major food crops are products of conventional breeding that concentrated combinations of genetic variants that already existed more rarely in wild plants. So the intragenic genetic modifications probably won't create crop strains any more radical than the foods we already eat.

People are willing to pay more for food that has more antioxidants in them.

"What we found was when genes for enhancing the amount of antioxidants and vitamin C in fresh produce were transferred by intragenic methods, consumers are willing to pay 25 percent more than for the plain product (with no enhancements). That is a sizable increase," said Huffman, distinguished professor of economics.

We already eat apple sauce fortified with vitamin C, milk fortified with vitamin D, and grains fortified with a variety of vitamins. Genetic engineering will shift food fortification into the genes. This has already been done with golden rice which has genes added to make it produce beta carotene which is a precursor which the body converts to vitamin A. The goal with golden rice is to reduce blindness in poor countries caused by vitamin A deficiency.

My main concern with genetic engineering for food fortification involves the choice of nutritional targets. Which vitamins should be boosted? I expect little benefit from fortification for most antioxidant vitamins. But prospects look better for benefit from the non-vitamin antioxidants (update: more accurately, some compounds that up-regulate detoxifying enzymes and repair enzymes). My suggestion: Measure antioxidant levels of wild berries and other wild crops. Then genetically engineer production crops to have the same levels. So, for example, farmed blueberries would contain the same levels of polyphenols as wild type.

Also, I would want genetically enhanced fortified strains to be so labeled.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 September 15 11:41 AM  Nutrition Antioxidant Sources

PacRim Jim said at September 15, 2011 5:33 PM:

Since oxidants play important roles within the human body, some of which are presumably unknown, wouldn't it be dangerous to attempt to extinguish every last one of them?

Engineer-Poet said at September 15, 2011 7:00 PM:

Altering gene promoters/transcription factors would probably get around GMO-phobia.  All the plant would be doing is making human-optimal amounts of various outputs without the chance factors of weather, predator/parasite attack, etc.

Randall Parker said at September 15, 2011 7:26 PM:

PacRim Jim.

You raise a good point. To answer your question: If all the free radicals and other active species were extinguished you'd die very quickly.

I should have been more precise in what I wrote in the post. A lot of the beneficial phytochemicals work by up-regulating detox and repair systems. So it would be more accurate to say that genetic engineering to raise concentrations of chemicals that boosting detox and repair systems would be beneficial.


The irony is that a lot of the selection that has been done to boost crop yields amounts to lowering the amount of resources that plants put into self defense so that they put more resources into creating seeds and endosperm. This is possible to do because the farmers supply supplemental defenses against pests. Some of the resources that plants create to fight off pests are toxicants for pests and a subset are toxicants for humans.

navytech said at September 16, 2011 11:07 AM:

Why not modify corn for omega-3 directly? Livestock, corn oil etc etc would all benefit.

Alanzo Hector Mountain Dew Comacho said at September 16, 2011 3:37 PM:

but Brawndo already has electrolytes!

Randall Parker said at September 16, 2011 6:32 PM:


Monsanto is working on genetically engineering omega 3 fatty acid enzymes into crops. They've already got omega 3 into soy. This will boost omega 3 in livestock that eats soy. Also, it could be fed to farmed fish such as farmed salmon.

In said at September 18, 2011 11:29 AM:

I'm very skeptical - This smells like "manufactured consent". Obviously the food industry wants this to be true, but I constantly see evidence of distrust of producers.

I won't believe this until I know what Huffman's interests are in the matter and what content they showed during the experiment. It would be extremely easy to manipulate the subjects responses. Consider this:

Also, I would want genetically enhanced fortified strains to be so labeled.


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