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
Cal Poly State University,
Cal Poly State University,
The objective of this research is to compare consumer attitudes toward genetically modified food in the United States during four time periods. This research examines differences during four time periods in familiarity with genetically modified food and consumer attitudes toward genetically modified food. Consumers attitudes toward purchasing genetically modified food based on four different benefits associated with the use of biotechnology are examined.
The research uses a survey instrument that was administered through the use of a personal interview of 1,137 randomly selected respondents at food stores over four time periods between 1999 and 2001. A simulated before and after experimental design was used to conduct this research to eliminate the impact of pre-measurement error. 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 October 2000 with a random sample of 224 respondents. A fourth phase of research was conducted in January 2001 with 232 respondents. All phases of research were conducted in San Luis Obispo County, California. San Luis Obispo County was designated the best test market in the United States by Demographics Daily (Thomas, 2001). San Luis Obispo was found to be the best of 3,141 counties to represent a microcosm of the United States based on 33 statistical indicators.
The results of this research indicate that there is a difference in familiarity with genetically modified food across the four periods, with an increase in the familiarity during the third period. Similarly, there is a change in the consumers attitudes toward the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food and willingness to buy genetically modified food during the third period. Since the third phase of the research was conducted shortly after the StarLink corn recall, the apparent increase in negative attitudes may be related to that issue. However, familiarity and purchase interest fell back to previous levels in the fourth phase. The importance of mandatory labeling of genetically modified food increased over the four periods. Overall, respondents that are familiar with genetically modified food are more likely to purchase it. However, the apparent reaction to the negative publicity from StarLink may be a warning of the fragile relationship between familiarity with biotechnology and positive attitudes toward its use for food production.
Respondents in the third and fourth phases 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. Using Biotechnology 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 the success of government agencies insuring food safety are related to a consumers attitude toward genetically modified food. Perceptions of food producers insuring food safety and producing using environmentally friendly methods are related to a consumers attitudes toward genetically modified food. Consumers that are less likely to trust the government and food producers to insure safe and environmentally friendly food are less likely to have positive attitudes toward genetically modified food. Since familiarity is positively related to acceptance of genetically modified food products, it appears that educating consumers about biotechnology will have a positive impact on attitudes toward its use for food production. However, negative attitudes toward the ability of government agencies and food producers to insure a safe food supply may reduce the impact of the education process.