The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


A Comparison of Consumer Attitudes toward Genetically Modified Food in the United States Over Four Time Periods

Marianne McGarry Wolf
Cal Poly State University
California, USA

The objective of this research is to use a case study to compare consumer attitudes toward genetically modified food in the United States during four time periods. The research uses a survey instrument that was administered through the use of a personal interview. The first phase of this research examines 324 randomly selected food purchasers in October 1999. The second phase of this research examines 357 randomly selected food purchasers in January and February 2000. A third phase of research commenced in September 2000 with a random sample of 224 respondents. A fourth phase of research is being conducted between January 18 and January 22, 2001. All phases of research were conducted in San Luis Obispo, California. San Luis Obispo has a population of about 42,000.

The results of the first three phases of research indicated that there is a difference in familiarity with genetically modified food across the three periods, with an increase in the familiarity during the third period. Similarly, there is change in the consumers’ attitudes toward the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food and willingness to buy genetically modified food. Since the research was conducted shortly after the Star Link corn recall, the apparent increase in negative attitudes may be related to that issue. Respondents in the third phase of research indicated that the most important reason to purchase a genetically modified food product is to improve nutrition followed by modifying it to kill pests and allow farmers to use less pesticides. Genetically modifying food products to improve taste and help plants withstand weed killers were less important reasons to purchase a genetically modified food product. This research shows that perceptions of government agencies and food safety and their perceptions of food producers and food safety are related to a consumer’s attitudes toward genetically modified food. The results of the fourth phase will be compared with the results of the previous three phases to determine if the shift in attitudes has continued over time.

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