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GM Survey Results

27 May, 2002

Perception Influenced By Knowledge

An apple genetically modified using a gene from a different kind of apple to improve the flavour was acceptable to some degree by many New Zealanders according to a survey.

HortResearch consumer scientist Jo Gamble conducted the nation- wide survey with 400 people in May and another 400 in October last year. That was pre- and post- the Royal Commission recommendations.

One question in the survey asked respondents to rate acceptability of six different techniques and included apples developed naturally right through to meat from a cow that had eaten clover sprayed with pesticides and milk modified to produce human insulin.

Conventional apples were acceptable to most people, as were apples that had been created using gene technology, but not genetically modified. Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of the people interviewed indicated that a genetically modified apple using genes from another type of apple to improve flavour was acceptable to some degree.

In contrast, meat from a cow that had eaten clover sprayed with pesticides was acceptable to fewer than half the respondents interviewed, similar to the acceptability of meat from a cow that had eaten genetically modified clover. However, milk from a cow genetically modified with human genes so as to produce human insulin was rated as acceptable to 60 percent of respondents, nearly equal to that of the genetically modified apple. Dr Gamble said, “this suggests that although the application uses human genes, the benefit is sufficient for many to be comfortable with the process.”

She also said a third of respondents indicated they had changed their behaviour now that some food contained genetically engineered ingredients, mainly checking the labels more carefully, or buying products labelled as organic of GE free.

Interviews were also carried out with retailers and manufacturers in September last year and revealed that they were generally neutral to positive about the potential of GE to bring benefits that outweigh possible harm. There were some concerns regarding health and safety, the current level of knowledge regarding risks associated with GE and the motives of multinationals. However the retailers felt comfortable supplying GM products to consumers who are unconcerned about them, or who are keen to purchase them for specific reasons.

The retailers currently perceived that consumer preference was for GM free food, although they were also aware of a segment of the market for whom GMOs were not a matter of concern. They were strongly in agreement that their companies should stock GM products and were keenly in favour of labelling of GM products as this was considered necessary in order to give consumers choice.

Retailers considered that currently consumer attitudes to GM are shaped by a lack of real knowledge, a fear of the new/unknown and highly vocal (minority) pressure groups and they consider that consumer attitudes are likely to change over time as they become more familiar with the products.

This is consistent with the consumer research that shows unfamiliarity with terminology can lead to an unwillingness to purchase a product. However, Dr Gamble found that provision of even a small amount of information regarding techniques and terms resulted in a greater degree of acceptance of most product applications.

Dr Gamble said that as a general rule a direct, relevant benefit to the consumer is a key requirement for a GM product to be rated as desirable.

Almost all consumers surveyed had heard of MAF and Greenpeace and both organisations were reasonably well trusted. About three- quarters had heard of the Royal Commission on GM after the release of their recommendations. One third had little faith in the recommendations; another third said they had some or complete faith. (Time will tell).


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