Are European consumers really bothered about GM foods?

April 19, 2002

Brussels, 18 April 2002

Results of a new study carried out in France show that European consumers are unlikely to be concerned enough to avoid buying clearly labelled GM foods.

The research was carried out in 16 sessions at Grenoble University, France, with the support of 37 organisations, with a scope that stretched from Monsanto to Greenpeace, as well as the French Ministry of agriculture. Grenoble was selected as its attitudes on the issue have generally reflected the European average. In addition, the survey used a wide cross section of people, rather than just students as is usually the case.

The experiment involved allocating funds to participants, who could then bid on buying chocolate from a company that produced both genetically modified and non-genetically modified chocolate bars. Results showed that participants would bid for the bars, but once offered a seat for three minutes and given nothing else to do other than look at the label, participants failed to notice the mention of genetically modified ingredients.

Furthermore, once participants were told which bars contained genetically modified ingredients, they did not stop bidding on them, but only wanted them on the condition that they were about a third cheaper than normal bars. Once participants were offered two servings of chocolate, some claimed that they preferred the first serving (believing it not to be genetically modified) even though both servings came from the same non-genetically modified chocolate bar.

The findings will make interesting reading for both firms producing genetically modified products and for policymakers in the EU. The most recent figures indicate that opposition in the EU to the introduction of genetically modified products is between 80 and 90 per cent. But consumer behaviour and public opinion are not always in tandem, according to associate professor Charles Noussair, from US Purdue University who took part in the experiment.

'Opinion surveys capture the respondent in the role of a voter, not in the role of a consumer. The two behaviours can be quite different,' he said.

The survey will open the debate on labelling. The researchers claimed that Europeans should now think about putting a large label on any foods containing genetically modified ingredients, in addition to mentioning this in the ingredients. Professor Noussair believes the results of the study could indicate that there would be a separate market for genetically modified products in Europe if the market offered a significant advantage, such as reduced prices.

For further information, please consult the following web addresses: sair

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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