Nutrition, Safety Key To Consumer Acceptance of Nanotech, Genetic Modification In Foods

Photo credit: Bailey S., via Flickr

New research from North Carolina State University and the University of Minnesota shows that the majority of consumers will accept the presence of nanotechnology or genetic modification (GM) technology in foods – but only if the technology enhances the nutrition or improves the safety of the food.

“In general, people are willing to pay more to avoid GM or nanotech in foods, and people were more averse to GM tech than to nanotech,” says Dr. Jennifer Kuzma, senior author of a paper on the research and co-director of the Genetic Engineering in Society Center at NC State. “However, it’s not really that simple. There were some qualifiers, indicating that many people would be willing to buy GM or nanotech in foods if there were health or safety benefits.”

The researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,117 U.S. consumers. Participants were asked to answer an array of questions that explored their willingness to purchase foods that contained GM tech and foods that contained nanotech. The questions also explored the price of the various foods and whether participants would buy foods that contained nanotech or GM tech if the foods had enhanced nutrition, improved taste, improved food safety, or if the production of the food had environmental benefits.

The researchers found that survey participants could be broken into four groups.

Eighteen percent of participants belonged to a group labeled the “new technology rejecters,” which would not by GM or nanotech foods under any circumstances. Nineteen percent of participants belonged to a group labeled the “technology averse,” which would buy GM or nanotech foods only if those products conveyed food safety benefits. Twenty-three percent of participants were “price oriented,” basing their shopping decisions primarily on the cost of the food – regardless of the presence of GM or nanotech. And 40 percent of participants were “benefit oriented,” meaning they would buy GM or nanotech foods if the foods had enhanced nutrition or food safety.

“This tells us that GM or nanotech food products have greater potential to be viable in the marketplace if companies focus on developing products that have safety and nutrition benefits – because a majority of consumers would be willing to buy those products,” Kuzma says.

“From a policy standpoint, it also argues that GM and nanotech foods should be labeled, so that the technology rejecters can avoid them,” Kuzma adds.

The paper, “Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products,” is published online in the Journal of Agricultural Economics. Lead author of the paper is Dr. Chengyan Yue of the University of Minnesota. The paper was co-authored by Shuoli Zhao, a graduate student at UM. The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Note to Editors: The study abstract follows.

“Heterogeneous Consumer Preferences for Nanotechnology and Genetic-modification Technology in Food Products”

Authors: Chengyan Yue and Shuoli Zhao, University of Minnesota; Jennifer Kuzma, North Carolina State University

Published: Online Nov. 12 in Journal of Agricultural Economics

DOI: 10.1111/1477-9552.12090

Abstract: This study investigates heterogeneous consumer preferences for nanofood and genetically-modified (GM) food and the associated benefits using the results of choice experiments with 1,117 US consumers. We employ a latent class logit model to capture the heterogeneity in consumer preferences by identifying consumer segments. Our results show that nano-food evokes fewer negative reactions compared with GM food. We identify four consumer groups: ‘Price Oriented/Technology Adopters’, ‘Technology Averse’, ‘Benefit Oriented’, and ‘New Technology Rejecters’. Each consumer group has a distinctive demographic background, which generates deeper insights into the diversified public acceptance of nano-food and GM food. Our results have policy implications for the adoption of new food technologies.

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