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  • Author or Editor: Beth Babbit x
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Although genetically modified (GM) ornamental cut flowers are now available commercially, we have no knowledge of consumer perception about GM ornamental plants for landscape use and must make inferences from models drawn for GM foods. If we misjudge the customer, and consumers object to GM ornamental plant products for moral reasons, governmental or scientific mistrust, or limited understanding about GM technology, the market for GM ornamental plant commodities will fail. A survey of Master Gardener volunteers was conducted in 2004 to address this gap. Although Master Gardener perceptions likely differ from those of general U.S. consumers, responses are expected provide insight about beliefs applicable to the gardening public. Results from 607 Tennessee respondents revealed that concerns about GM ornamental plants parallel those expressed in the United States about GM foods. On average, Master Gardeners anticipate slight benefits to both the environment and human health should GM ornamental plants be introduced into the landscape. Male respondents chose perennials to provide the most environmental benefits, whereas females indicated grasses and turf. Genetically modified ornamental plants are also expected to be about the same or less invasive in the landscape than non-GM plants. Of respondents who anticipated more potential for GM ornamental plant invasiveness, women were more likely than men to predict plant escape. Men and women differed in relative acceptance of genes added from different organisms as a method of achieving genetic transformations in plants. This result suggests that outreach and marketing to promote new GM plant products should emphasize attributes of benefit rather than processes used to accomplish the goal. Regardless, although ≈73% of TN Master Gardener respondents reported interest in buying GM ornamental plants if sold commercially, participants advocated a requirement that GM plant products be clearly labeled at point-of-sale.

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Though genetically modified (GM) ornamental cut flowers are already available commercially, U.S. academics and Green Industry growers have not assessed consumer perception about GM ornamental plants for landscape use. Because we must make inferences from studies of GM foods, we risk misunderstanding and alienating stakeholders and clients. If we misjudge the end-user, we jeopardize the market for future GM ornamental plant introductions. To address this gap, we surveyed Tennessee Master Gardener Volunteers in 2004. Respondents (n = 607) revealed that concern and belief about GM ornamental plants parallel U.S. expectation about GM foods. Average Master Gardener volunteer responses predict that GM ornamental plants would provide only slight benefits to both the environment and human health once used in the landscape. Compared with non-GM plants, GM ornamental plants are expected to be about the same or less invasive in the landscape. While all types of GM ornamental plants were expected to provide slight benefits, plant types were perceived differently with male respondents expecting perennials to yield the most environmental benefits and females indicating grasses and turf. Men and women also differed in their relative acceptance of GM ornamental plants, if genes were added from different types of organisms to achieve a genetic transformation of an ornamental shrub. Our results suggest that academic outreach and Green Industry marketing to promote new GM plant products should emphasize attributes of benefit, rather than GM transformation processes. Regardless, about 73% of TN Master Gardener respondents reported interest in buying GM ornamental plants if sold commercially, but the majority advocated a requirement for GM plant product labeling at point-of-sale.

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