The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)

Non technical abstract

Consumer Attitudes toward Genetically Modified Food in Ireland and the United States  

Marianne McGarry Wolf,
Cal Poly State University,
California, USA 

Juliana McDonnell,
Christine Domegan,
National University of Ireland, 
Galway
, Ireland 

Heidi Yount,
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 and Europe using two communities and two time periods. The research used a survey instrument that was administered through the use of a personal interview.  The first phase of this research examines 882 randomly selected food purchasers interviewed in October 1999 and January 2000. The second phase of research commenced in October 2000 with a random sample of 324 respondents.  All phases of research were conducted in San Luis Obispo, California and Galway, Ireland.  San Luis Obispo has a population of approximately 42,000 and Galway has a population of approximately 57,000.

The results of the first phase were presented in Ravello, Italy during August 2000 at the 4th International Conference on the "Economics of Agricultural Biotechnology” that was sponsored by The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research.  The results of the first phase indicated that there was a similar level of familiarity with genetically modified food in Ireland and the Unites States. Approximately 43% of respondents in both countries indicated that they were familiar with genetically modified food.  The second phase of research was conducted shortly after the recall of many food products in the United States containing corn that was grown using the StarLink seed.  An increase in familiarity was observed in the United States, with half of the respondents indicating familiarity with genetically modified food.  However, the level of familiarity in Ireland remained at a level similar to that observed during the pervious phase.

Results of the first phase indicated a difference in attitudes between the Irish consumer and consumers in the United States toward genetically modified food.  The familiar U.S. respondents perceived genetically modified food to have neutral or positive attributes.  The Irish consumer attributed more negative attributes to genetically modified food.  Further, the Irish consumers were more likely to indicate that mandatory labeling is important and less likely to purchase a genetically modified food product.  During the second phase of research, the Irish consumer continues to be less likely to purchase a genetically modified food product. However, the Irish and consumers in the United States indicated similar attitudes toward the labeling of genetically modified food during the second phase of research since more respondents in the United States indicate that mandatory labeling is important. 

Additional questions were added during the second phase of research to examine consumer attitudes toward genetically modified food based on the purpose for the use of biotechnology: to help plants withstand weed killers, to improve nutrition, to kill pests and allow farmers to use less pesticide, and to improve taste. Respondents in the United States 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.   The Irish respondents indicated that using biotechnology to kill pests and allow farmers to use less pesticides and to improve nutrition are equally important. Using biotechnology to help plants withstand weed killers and improve taste were less important to the Irish respondent. 

Questions were added during the second phase of research to examine attitudes toward government agencies and food safety and attitudes toward food producers and food safety and the environment. Perceptions of government agencies and food safety and perceptions of food producers and food safety and the environment are more positive in the United States than in Ireland.  Perceptions of government agencies and food safety and perceptions of food producers and food safety are related to a consumer’s attitudes toward genetically modified food in the United States.  However, such attitudes are not related to a consumer’s attitudes toward genetically modified food in Ireland.  Consumers in the United States that have more positive attitudes toward government agencies and food safety and of food producers and food safety are more likely to purchase genetically modified food.  Such a relationship does not exist in Ireland.  However, there are less positive attitudes toward government regulators and global food producers in Ireland.  It was found that a positive relationship exists between perceptions of global food producers using environmentally safe methods and the purchase probability for genetically modified food for consumers in both countries.

 


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