The science behind why people prefer organic, natural and non-gmo foods

Why is it that it organic food tastes better than gmo products? Is it the genetic make-up of a free range chicken or the leafy textures of organic vegetables?

A study conducted by four universities found that the story behind how the food was cultivated or manufactured influences not only how the consumer feels when buying the food, but also how the food tastes. For instance, intentionally choosing to buy a dozen organic apples enhances the taste of the fruit. The Free University of Brussels, Oxford, the University Institute of Lisbon, and the University of Melbourne found that the labels of “natural,” “organic,” and “locally sourced” are certifications that are becoming more and more popular,regardless of the added costs. For consumers buying and eating foods with ethical back stories provides a sense of “moral satisfaction” and therefore the consumer feels they have done something good for the world.

One of the experiments involved giving cookies to two groups. The first group was briefed on the ethical consciousness of the cookie manufacturer and the second group was briefed on the environmental irresponsibility of the cookie manufacturer. Both groups, however, were fed the cookies. After this the groups were asked to rate the cookies and whether they would chose to buy the cookies again. The first group rated the cookies significantly higher than the second. Why?

The human taste experience and behavior toward food is shaped by our large frontal cortex.. This part of the brain plays a significant role in culminating the senses, especially integrating taste and smell into flavor. This part of the brain also processes abstract information such as the amount paid for the food, the brand and the origin of the food you are consuming. This information means we experience objective sensations that define our experience of the food and often create negative impressions due to contextual information rather than subjective taste and smell. The context of where food came from can improve or degrade the taste. What the study indicates is that moral satisfaction and sensory pleasure is intertwined.

About 90 percent of commodity crops used in the American food supply, including soybeans, sugar beets, and feed corn, are genetically engineered. Though GMO’s have been deemed safe for consumption, there is also a lack of research  into the effect of allergens of GMO foods. Rigorous testing and research has to be done before GMO products are manufactured for public consumption, however there is yet a possibility of allergens being present in the food.

During the 90’s a biotech company began using genetic modification to insert a gene into the Brazil nut. The nut’s gene selected induces the richness of a protein in one essential amino acid. The goal was to create a soybean that was more nutritious and protein rich for animal feed. The brazil nut is known to contain an allergen, therefore the company also tested the product for human reaction, with the thought that the transgenic soybean might accidentally enter the human food supply. Tests showed that humans reacted to the genetically modified nut and therefore the project as stopped.

Because the biotech company was aware of the allergen in advance, they were able to test for it, however GMO foods are often unknown, therefore they can inadvertently have a negative effect on the health of consumers. Now companies like Chipotle are enforcing a non-GMO foods policy and rejecting the use of any artificially genetically modified foods, hopefully campaigns like this will encourage other companies to follow suite.

“Altered Food, GMOs, Genetically Modified Food – National Geographic.”National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.

Forbes. Forbes Magazine, n.d. Web. 06 May 2015.

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