The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)
A Comparison of Consumer Attitudes toward Genetically Modified Food in Europe and the United States: A Case Study over Time
Marianne McGarry Wolf, California Polytechnic State
The objective of this research is to compare consumer attitudes toward genetically modified food in the United States and Europe over time to determine if the negative attitudes toward genetically modified food observed in Europe will be adopted by consumers in the United States. A simulated before-after experimental design is used. The first phase of this research was conducted in October in the United States and in November in Ireland. The first phase of research was conducted before genetically modified food became a publicized issue in the United States through the WTO news features. The second phase of the research will be conducted during January and February 2000. It will examine if increased media coverage in the U.S. has had an impact on attitudes over time and between the regions studied.
The first phase of this research examines 423 randomly selected food purchasers in San Luis Obispo, California and Galway, Ireland. San Luis Obispo has a population of about 42,000 and Galway has a population of approximately 57,000. The survey instrument was administered through the use of a personal interview in October and November of 1999.
An important finding for the U.S. sample was that while 45.4% of respondents indicated they were "somewhat or very familiar" with genetically modified food, 82.4% indicated that they think it is "somewhat or very important" for the government to impose mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. Further, 26.2% indicated that they would "probably or definitely not" purchase a food product that has been genetically modified. Most U.S. respondents, 74.4%, indicated that they heard about genetically modified food from news magazines. Chi-square tests were used to determine factors that were related to the need for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food. The following factors were related to the need for mandatory labeling for the U.S. consumer: frequency of reading ingredient labels, frequency of reading nutrition labels, and purchasing organic food products. Demographics did not impact the need for mandatory labeling for the U.S. consumer.
Differences between the Irish and American respondents were examined using Chi-square tests. The Irish respondent is more likely to think that it is "somewhat or very important" for the government to impose mandatory labeling of genetically modified food while they read ingredient and nutritional information less often than the American respondent. The Irish respondent is less likely to purchase a food product that has been genetically modified than the American respondent. The Irish respondent is more likely to have heard about genetically modified food from newspapers, television news, radio news, and discussions with family, friends, or colleagues than the American respondent.
Frequency of reading ingredient labels and familiarity with genetically modified food factors were related to the need for mandatory labeling for the Irish consumer.