Genetically modified food and health professionals
: knowledge, practice and training needs

  • Isabella Ribeiro de Figueiredo Vieira (Student)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Since 1996 there have been a number of transgenic foods approved for human and animal consumption in the European Union. These foods, altered through genetic engineering, have been questioned as to the dimensions of their potential benefits and risks. This is especially relevant in the case of the nutritional dimension, where consumers are confronted with daily decisions about how to feed themselves. In this context, health professionals are called upon to intervene, sooner or later, and respond in the context of their clinical contact to questions of opinion, attitude, and science. Thus, the objective of this work was to evaluate the knowledge and opinion of nutritionists and physicians on the subject of transgenic foods and their perception of training needs, in addition to presenting a proposal for teaching this subject matter. In this research a combination of methods was used. Data of a qualitative and quantitative (questionnaire, interview, and class) nature were combined in order to improve the breadth and depth of the study. A questionnaire was applied between March and July 2016 and 248 nutritionists and 278 physicians took part. The questionnaire was validated and additional statistically-based analyses were performed to gather respondent profiles according to the various issues surrounding genetically modified foods. Furthermore, a pilot study with the participation of 14 health professionals was carried out with the purpose of establishing and assessing a training module on transgenic foods for Nutritional Sciences and Medical Sciences higher education. Overall results showed nutritionists more unfavorable opinions regarding genetically modified foods whereas physicians tend towards a more neutral view. This characterization draws a detailed portrait of how these professionals perceive transgenic foods. Apparently age, gender, and level of education all influence both opinion and knowledge. Nutritionists and physicians have fairly low knowledge of transgenic foods. This situation can be better understood in the light of the virtual non¬existence of teaching modules on this topic in Portugal, either in undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, including continuing education. Both nutritionists and physicians considered it useful to have some kind of training on transgenic foods during university and professional education but their opinion differed on the format and type of program. As food experts, transgenic food studies could become a part of regular or optional courses. For physicians knowledge would desirably take shape through lesser offers, such as extra credit courses or workshops. The format of multidisciplinary teaching proposed in this research is based on the recognition that a complex web connects science and technology with society. This is an approach that develops much needed critical thinking skills when knowledge limitations are involved in decision making during times of uncertainty and an uneven risk distribution across society. Results of this research contribute to the current literature on the positioning of health professionals regarding transgenic foods, creating a reference point where now questions must now be equated and answered.
Date of Award10 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Universidade Católica Portuguesa
SupervisorMargarida Silva (Supervisor), Elisabete Pinto (Co-Supervisor) & Teresa R.S. Brandão (Co-Supervisor)


  • Genetically modified foods
  • Medical doctors
  • Nutritionists
  • Training


  • Doutoramento em Biotecnologia

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