Several food related crises, such as BSE and toxic chemical contamination from various sources, have caused Europeans to be wary about the food they consume. Questions arise about the safety of the food they eat, putting pressure on authorities to provide solutions. One such contentious question is, ‘How are Europeans dealing with the GMO food issue?’ Unresolved and in the spotlight for ten years, the European Commission has launched a project to investigate this matter.
The ConsumerChoice proposal involves 11 Member States, and includes natural and social scientists, retailers and consumer groups, formed to discover the facts about Europeans and genetically modified food. Going beyond the traditional opinion polls, the project investigates actual reactions when citizens are provided a choice between GMO’s and traditional food types. Specifically, this is to explore the discrepancy between what consumers actually do and what such polls suggest they do.
ConsumerChoice began by assessing what GM food types are available in the various countries and how readily they are purchased in comparison to their non-GM type equivalents. These observations are supplemented with the findings of targetgroup specific opinion polls and focus-group studies.
To further enhance these findings, the project undertakes a continued observation on both the national political climate surrounding GM products, as well as the nature of media exposure that might influence European trends.
COLD, TEPID & HOT REACTIONS
Currently, several studies suggest that while some consumers oppose GMOs, many, perhaps most, remain indifferent. Furthermore, price has a direct relevancy to purchasing habits. A case in point is a series of studies carried out in various European cities in 2004. Fake GM foods were sold at cheaper prices alongside non-GM foods at regular prices. Consumers willingly purchased more ‘GM’ foods than they did the ‘non-GM’ counterparts.
An additional finding indicates that consumer positions are also influenced by such factors as ethical, existential and epistemological issues. On average, the European public is more sceptical when it comes to GM food than they are with respect to biotechnology for medicine.
Undoubtedly, how consumers view genetic engineering will influence the existing and future development of health-promoting food using gene technology. The results for labelled GM foods that emerge from the ConsumerChoice study will help to shape the actions of Europe’s food industry in a multitude of ways.
INFORMED CHOICE IS THE TICKET
In order to comply with EU regulations, GM food products containing more than 0.9% GM content in any one component must be labelled. Experts claim that Europe will see a surge in the number and in the variety of GMOs that will become available. With a budget of €707 752, ConsumerChoice offers researchers and industry evidence of actual consumer behaviour as opposed to assumptions based on opinion polls asking about attitudes and intentions. If Europeans accept GM foods, the majority of food SMEs will be able to find solid footing in the market and will increasingly cooperate with larger companies in a publicly agreed common policy of handling GMO issues with transparency.
However, the situation is not a simple matter. Variance in regional and national consumer behaviour complicates matters. Retailers often respond with a range of reactions. If GM foods are widely acceptable, the food industry will doubtless act accordingly. However, if they are not, Europe is still able to go forward successfully as an area largely devoid of agricultural biotechnology and its products.
The point is to be informed. The European Commission has worked diligently to boost resources for biosafety research. Over a 15-year period, the EU spent some €70 million on 80 projects involving more than 400 laboratories across the continent. Making well informed decisions is imperative, for both the public and authorities alike.
List of Partners
- King’s College London (UK)
- BioAlliance (Germany)
- BIOTRIN (Czech Republic)
- EDYTOR (Poland)
- Tallinn Technical University (Estonia)
- National Hellenic Research Foundation (Greece)
- University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
- Linköping University (Sweden)
- Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain)
- Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands)
- Dorte Hammelev (Denmark)
- London School of Economics (UK)
- Full title:
- Do European consumers buy GM foods?
- Contract n°:
- Project co-ordinator:
- Vivian Moses,
Kings College London
- EC Scientific Officer:
- Maurice Lex,
- EU contribution:
- € 707,752
- Specific Support Action