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GM/GE - consumers weigh up the evidence

After surveying 908 people about their perception of genetic modification or genetic engineering, HortResearch scientist Joanna Gamble found that knowledge of basic questions about food technology and science is fairly high.

Results indicate that about 50 percent of people would choose genetically modified products if the price were right, while about 40 percent said they would avoid the products at all costs. People also want choice and control over consumption.

While risks are perceived to outweigh benefits, price has been shown to be a powerful benefit and along with labelling and the required segregation of crops, lower prices may make genetically modified alternatives more attractive.

"New Zealand consumers are still making up their minds about genetic modification. There is a desire to know more and people requested that information be very simple and easily accessible" said Ms Gamble who worked on the survey in collaboration with Auckland University and Massey University.

Responding to the survey results, HortResearch CEO Ian Warrington said, "The results of the survey are similar to those carried out in other countries. There must be more explanation of the practices that are used to protect both public health and the environment.

"Consumers want choice in the products they buy, advantages to them from the applications of these new technologies and confidence that any risks are minimal. They also want moral and ethical concerns resolved," he said.

"The Commission of Enquiry into genetic modification will provide an ideal opportunity to allow public input to the issues raised in the survey, and an agreed path ahead for New Zealand," Dr Warrington said.

A number of key issues were identified and these included a concern about the unknown short- and long- term risks on health and the environment. This was particularly a concern with food such as fruit and vegetables that are bought for their nutritional content.

The survey found there was a great deal of cynicism, aimed particularly at big businesses that were perceived to possess a monopoly over the distribution of information and policy/regulation formation

"Overall, results suggest that consumers both weigh up the potential risks and benefits, and take into consideration their own and others moral beliefs when deciding whether to accept a genetically modified product," Ms Gamble said.

The full survey results can be viewed on the HortResearch web site at http://www.hort.cri.nz/media/gm_report.htm

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