The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


Perceptions and Attitudes Towards Genetically Modified Foods - a New Zealand Survey


Oswin Maurer and Scott Koslow,
New Zealand Food Marketing Institute,
Waikato Management School Hamilton


As a major exporting country of agricultural commodities and food products, the issue of genetically modified foods is of high relevance to New Zealand's food and agribusiness sector.

This study examines perceptions and attitudes of of New Zealand consumers towards genetically modified foods and how these factors impact on food purchasing decisions. The study is based on a survey which has been carried out among consumers at food retail outlets in October 2000. The consumer survey was part of an omnibus survey on food attitudes and food choice. Standardised interviews were used to explore consumers' familiarity with the scientific concepts of genetic modification, the acceptability of genetically modified products including general and particular concerns, as well as labelling issues.

A second (similar) survey was distributed among a sample of agricultural and food scientists involved in genetic engineering at the same time, to obtain attitudes of creators of GMF for comparative reasons.

The underlying assumption of the study was that different products, categorised along a continuum of processing stages do have different effects on purchasing decisions. We assumed that consumer attitudes are not as pronounced with highly processed products containing one or several GMO components compared to food products containing GMO's and marketed without processing. We also hypotheised a model in which purchase was predicted by several of these attitudes. Furthermore, our assumption was that scientists involved in GM are better informed about the technology than ordinary consumers and hence will show more rationality in their purchasing decision making.

Respondents were asked to rate opinions that affect their food purchase decisions on 1-7 Likert scales. A linear structural equation model was used to analyse the data, and confirmatory analysis identified several unobserved latent attitudes that may affect purchase decisions.

We found that some consumers were more concerned about particular categories of food, but there was no descernable pattern that suggested less concern for more heavily processed foods. Also few attitudes seemed to predict purchases. However, the largest of positive purchase attitudes was not in negativity toward genetically modified food, but rather being positive about the underlying technology. Not surprisingly, results between consumers and scientists showed distinctive and expected differences, however, scientists were still somewhat concerned about genetically modified foods.

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