The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Consumer Acceptance of GM Foods:
Implications for Trade

Sallie James,
Michael Burton,
Agricultural and resource Economics
University of Western Australia

Food safety decisions made by private companies and government organisations are based on risk assessments which provide the scientific evidence for determining and controlling threats to food safety and quality. However, consumers may differ from scientists in their assessment of risk and may consider attributes other than food safety such as taste, price and ethical and environmental attributes when purchasing food. These differences in attitudes have a major impact on the regulation, production and marketing of foods to meet the requirements of consumers in international markets. Thus, quantifying the value of food safety and quality attributes is a key factor in private and public decision making regarding the types of food products offered in the market and the regulations enforced.

This research adds to those studies by using choice modelling methods to examine the extent to which Australian consumers are willing to pay to avoid GM foods, if at all. Choice modelling brings with it a number of advantages, not least the possibility of embedding the issue of interest within a broader context. In this case the specific concern of GMOs has been located and examined within the broader framework of consumer attitudes to the food production system. The results appear statistically robust and are consistent with previous qualitative findings with respect to consumer attitudes to GM food. Moreover, this work is indicative of the type of analysis that can be conducted using choice modelling techniques. It is hoped that, by identifying consumers’ willingness to pay to avoid GM foods, the results of the survey can assist in identifying the appropriate policy response.

The second part of the paper turns to the question of how differences in consumer preferences and regulatory approaches might affect international trade in transgenic goods. It examines the international agreements governing the transboundary movement of products produced using gene technology and the scope for differences in consumer preferences to justify trade restrictions.

Keywords: genetically modified food, consumer attitudes, choice modelling, trade

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