Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Risk Perception Profiles regarding Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH)

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Consumer Risk Perception Profiles regarding Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rbGH)

Article excerpt

This study examines individual differences in risk perception typologies, specifically for recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH). Results indicate diverse consumer profiles across risk perception categories. Awareness of rbGH is significantly affected by education and ethnicity. Risk perceptions concerning rbGH are significantly affected by age, gender, and education. Self-protective behavior is significantly affected by household size and identification with environmental groups. Identifying and understanding these profiles would enable risk communicators to design more effective risk communication strategies.

It has been documented that lay people have a richer and more multifaceted definition of risk than do experts (Marris et al. 1997). It is also known that individuals, both experts and nonexperts, differ in their perceptions of risks depending on the nature of the product (Marris et al. 1997; Oglethorpe and Monroe 1994; Sparks and Shepherd 1994). Less known is the extent of consumers' perceived risk related to the consumption of a specific product. Understanding product-specific risk perception profiles would provide risk communicators information needed to design more effective risk communication strategies.

The specific product of interest in this study is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), a food-related biotechnology used in milk production. Approval for rbGH's commercial use was granted in 1994 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after scientific evidence showed that it was safe for human consumption (Ropp 1994). Consumers have, however, reported apprehension over consuming milk from rbGH-treated cows (Smith and Warland 1992). Thus, examining the manner in which this product was introduced into consumer markets can provide an example of how consumers' beliefs affect the process of risk selection and their market decisions.

Weinstein (1988) believes that one must advance through a series of distinct stages before taking an action to protect oneself. A self-protective behavior is defined as an averting behavior used by consumers to reduce the chance of an adverse outcome or as an action taken to reduce personal or group vulnerability to a risk (Ehrlich and Becker 1972). Weinstein characterizes these stages as reflecting individual behavior differences at different points in the self-protection process. For this study, these stages provide a framework to categorize different levels of perceived risk and behavioral responses by consumers. This study uses Weinstein's (1988) theory of stages in self-protection as the basis of a schema to classify risk perception typologies associated with milk from cows treated with rbGH. This research identifies consumer profiles according to typologies of risk regarding rbGH to understand what factors influence the different stages of risk perception, using nationwide survey data.


Krimsky (1995) contends that the life cycle of a controversy can provide insights into the process of risk selection. Risk selection is a "term that describes society's decision to give certain risk [perceptions] special consideration, including regulation or banning of products" (Krimsky 1995, 2). He describes the life-cycle controversy of rbGH as having a thirteen-year gestation period with peaks of intense public debates in the years 1990 and 1993, just before its approval for commercial use. While still in the development stage, the rbGH product drew skepticism from environmental and sustainable agricultural groups (Krimsky 1995). Although there was public apprehension toward the product, no dramatic incident or single health hazard surrounded it in contrast with other food products or additives, such as Alar. Dramatic events are said to heighten risk perceptions, as well as to shape risk behavior (Kasperson 1992). The broad but less intense public concern associated with the rbGH product focused primari ly on health and equity concerns in addition to social and ethical issues (Krimsky 1995). …

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