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Students’ knowledge and attitudes towards GMOs and nanotechnology

Sharareh Hekmat (School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Brescia University College, Western University, London, Canada)
Lindsay Nicole Dawson (School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Western University, London, Canada)

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 8 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to investigate knowledge and attitudes toward genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and nanotechnology among the Canadian youth demographic. The primary objective of this pilot study was to investigate the knowledge and attitudes toward GMOs and nanotechnology among first year university students. The secondary objective was to compare knowledge and attitudes toward GMOs and nanotechnology among students studying nutrition as to students who do not study nutrition.

Design/methodology/approach

A questionnaire was developed by researchers and student volunteers. This questionnaire was distributed to first year university classes at Western University. The multiple-choice questions were analyzed using SAS, and open-ended questions were analyzed using theme analysis.

Findings

GMO knowledge was strong for both populations, however questions related to the percentage of GM foods grown in Canada indicated nutrition students had a stronger GMO knowledge (p = 0.031). Open-ended questions revealed overall attitudes toward GMOs were either unsure or negative between both populations. Nutrition students had a more positive attitude toward nanotechnology, and a slightly stronger knowledge regarding applications of nanotechnology (p = 0.006). Theme analysis indicated that participants enrolled in nutritional studies were less apprehensive toward GMOs. No differences were indicated in open-ended questions related to nanotechnology between both groups, which may be due to the lack of awareness related to the novelty of the technology.

Research limitations/implications

Without a validated questionnaire, this reduces the reliability of the results from the questionnaire. The questionnaire was carefully designed by combining previous studies questionnaires, as well as producing questions from related literature, which increases the reliability and accuracy of the questionnaire. In addition, the questionnaires underwent several rounds of pre-piloting as well as multiple revisions with current health-care professions to increase the reliability and accuracy of the questionnaire.

Practical implications

This study will assist in understanding the current knowledge of GMOs and nanotechnology among first year university students. This will then allow us to understand if knowledge has a factor in altering students’ attitudes toward these technologies. If students do not have a strong knowledge toward these technologies, then this may lead to the potential implementation of education regarding GMOs and nanotechnology. As these technologies are emerging and being used in everyday food items, individuals should be aware of the implications, as well as the benefits of these technologies.

Originality/value

This is the first study regarding this topic in Canada. Results from this study provide baseline data that may be used to conduct future research.

Keywords

Citation

Hekmat, S. and Dawson, L.N. (2019), "Students’ knowledge and attitudes towards GMOs and nanotechnology", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 49 No. 4, pp. 628-638. https://doi.org/10.1108/NFS-07-2018-0193

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited