Genetically Modified Foods: Consumers' Attitudes and Labeling Issues

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  • Consumers’ attitudes to genetically modified (GM) food ingredients and their reactions to and preferences for labeling of GM food are topical issues for Canadian food policy and are the subjects of this study. This project included several components. The first of these was an assessment of public attitudes to biotechnology and to GM food based on evidence from polls and other studies. These show increasing awareness and some increase in wariness of GM food, in Canada and elsewhere. In the second component of the project, analysis of survey data on Alberta consumers’ preferences for different policy approaches to GM food was undertaken. This analysis indicates a preference by Alberta residents for GM food policy to emphasize the provision of more information to consumers, through labeling, over a policy that would provide for more rigorous inspection; even so, more inspection was favored by many respondents. More regulation that would restrict biotechnology was the least favoured of the three options that were presented to Alberta respondents. In a third component of the project, a case study on individual’s attitudes to and preferences for GM ingredients in two selected food items (one of which was a nacho chip and the other of which was bread) was pursued through focus groups that were conducted in Edmonton, Alberta in 2002. This indicated highly varied attitudes and responses to GM food in general and to the selected products in particular. Attitudes to and preferences for environmental and health benefits that might be introduced through biotechnology were explored in these groups. Some 50 percent of focus group respondents indicated a willingness to buy the identified GM products, at a price discount. The fourth and final component of the project involved two sections of a Canada- wide survey, conducted in early 2003. These components queried respondents’ assessments of the importance of various food safety risks and various environmental issues associated with food and agriculture, as well as attitudes to labelling policy. Overall, Canadians tended to see agricultural biotechnology as more of an environmental risk than a food risk and numbers of other food and environmental issues were seen to be more risky by many respondents. However the use of genetic modification/engineering in food production was seen as a very high risk issue by about one-fifth of respondents. Respondents also indicated a strong desire for public involvement in biotechnology policy, voted strongly for mandatory labeling and disagreed that labeling is not needed if the product’s quality remains unchanged.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International