Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Consumer Acceptance of Nutritionally Enhanced Genetically Modified Food: Relevance of Gene Transfer Technology

Academic journal article Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics

Consumer Acceptance of Nutritionally Enhanced Genetically Modified Food: Relevance of Gene Transfer Technology

Article excerpt

This study examines consumer's willingness to consume different types of a nutritionally enhanced food product (i.e., breakfast cereal with calcium, omega fatty acids, or anti-oxidants) derived from grains genetically modified using two types of technologies: plant-to-plant gene transfer technology and animal-to-plant gene transfer technology. Findings indicate a majority of the respondents are willing or somewhat willing to consume the three types of nutritionally enhanced genetically modified breakfast cereal, but are less willing if the genetically modified product is derived from animal-to-plant gene transfer technology than from plant-to-plant gene transfer technology. However, the results of the ordered probit models suggest there are groups of consumers who will not approve of the use of either type of gene transfer technology even with the presence of an enhanced nutritional benefit in the product.

Key words: consumer acceptance, gene transfer technology, genetic modification, nutritionally enhanced food products, willingness to consume

Introduction

Farm-level adoption of genetically modified (GM) crops has increased dramatically since their commercial introduction in the United States in the mid-1990s. In 2002, about three-quarters of U.S. soybean acreage and more than a third of corn acreage were planted using GM seeds (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2002). GM crops have experienced faster adoption rates in the United States than other agricultural innovations such as hybrid corn (Kalaitzandonakes, 1999). Biotechnology has emerged as a technology offering the promise of delivering foods with a wide range of nutritional, economic, and social benefits. The first generation of GM crops was marketed to agricultural producers on the basis of having important input traits such as disease or pest resistance. For instance, bioengineered Bt-corn and cotton and herbicide-resistant Round-Up Ready(TM) soybeans offered cost-saving opportunities to farmers (Marra, Pardey, and Alston, 2002).

Until recently, scientists and the biotechnology industry operated under the presumption that "sound science" would automatically lead to consumer acceptance of GM products (Krueger, 2001). Contrary to the biotechnology industry's initial optimism, however, GM food products have, so far, faced mixed regulatory and public acceptance in the United States and elsewhere (Bredahl, 1999; Gaskell et al., 1999; Hallman et al., 2002). For example, due to consumer concerns, the European Union until recently imposed severe restrictions on the use of GM crops in any segment of its food chain. Even in the United States where GM crops entered the food system without evoking major public resistance, there are signs of increased consumer anxiety about the safety of these crops (Priest, 2000). This misgiving is reflected in recent declines in public support for the use of this technology in food production. As found by surveys conducted by the International Food Information Council (2000), public acceptance of GM foods fell from 78% in 1997 to 59% in 1999.

Although public opposition to food biotechnology is driven primarily by concerns about the safety of GM products for humans and the environment, the use of biotechnology has been criticized also on moral, ethical, and social grounds. The use of biotechnology in plants and animals, especially gene transfer across species, has been opposed on grounds that such practices take us to "realms of God." Since genes are naturally occurring entities which can be discovered (not invented), some argue that granting patents on genetic findings and processes is morally and ethically untenable (Donagy, 2001). The use of genetic technology in agriculture has also raised some important social issues. One such issue is the perceived undesirable social consequences of permanent dependence of farmers on multinational corporations for their "means of production."

Proponents of biotechnology view current consumer resistance to GM foods as being due, in part, to the lack of tangible consumer benefits derived from this technology (Dunahay, 1999; Riley and Hoffman, 1999; Feldman, Morris, and Hoisington, 2000). …

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