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Attitudes to GE food under scrutiny - HortResearch

It would seem the New Zealanders are still making up their minds about the benefits or otherwise of genetic technology, especially with regard to food. The unknown short-and long-term risks of genetic technology on health and the environment were among concerns expressed in the preliminary results of a three-year long study into the public's perceptions of genetically modified (GM) food.

The sudy, designed to measure and understand consumer attitudes towards GM foods, was undertaken by HortResearch in collaboration with AgResearch, Forest Research Institute, Auckland University and Massey University.

A perceived lack of choice and control over consumption of GM food due to the lack of labelling regulations and the resulting perception of being `part of an experiment' without having given consent was another concern .

Over half of the 908 New Zealanders aged 14 to 65, surveyed indicated some negativity towards GM foods. A quarter were extremely negative. Women were more likely to feel this way than men, as were people aged between 35-44 and over 65.

In comparison, only 10-18 percent felt positive about the technology and were more likely to be men aged between 18-24. A third were undecided.

However, the picture changed when people were presented with an image of a tomato genetically modified to reduce the need for pesticides. About 40 percent said they would probably avoid the tomatoes, and 25 of these said they would definitely avoid them. However, between 20-25 percent said they probably would buy the tomatoes. Again, a third said they were undecided. No gender differences were apparent, but rural respondents were more likely to avoid the product.

The researchers said there had been debate about how informing and educating the public will affect attitudes towards GM technology. Results show that knowledge plays some role in determining the belief that gene technology can provide benefits, although other factors such as concern for the environment are more influential. Indications are that people are still their time to consider the risks and benefits.

It will be another six months before the final analysis of this information will be completed giving a greater understanding of New Zealanders' attitudes towards genetic engineering.

ends

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