attitudes and decision-making with regard to genetically modified food products
Public understanding and opinion are extremely important factors in the
process of the integration of genetically modified (GM) products into
the community. In light of this, this project was designed to examine
several issues. These included gaining an understanding of the concerns
and benefits relevant to societal factors associated with the use of genetic
modification in food products in selected European Union countries. In
addition, the project was designed to gain an understanding of how consumers
in selected European Union countries form attitudes (positive or negative),
towards genetic modification in food products. It also attempted to gain
an understanding of how such attitudes interact with other factors in
determining consumers' purchase decisions. Another objective was to gain
an understanding of how various strategies for informing consumers about
benefits and risks associated with genetic modification, affect their
attitudes and their purchase decisions. The final aim of this project
was to derive, based on the understanding obtained, a series of conclusions
relating to the use of GM products. These included the development and
marketing of food products based on genetic modification, regulation of
the use of genetic modification in food products, and strategies for informing
consumers about the use of genetic modification and its consequences in
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Approach and methodology
Initially, models were developed using existing consumer behaviour theory
and a review of comparable research. These models were then estimated
through the execution of four empirical studies, all applying established
social science methods. The first two studies were qualitative and were
aimed at eliciting risks and benefits associated by consumers with the
use of genetic modification in food products. These were carried out as
focus groups conducted with experts and semi-structured consumer interviews,
called laddering interviews. The expert focus groups were also used as
a basis for identifying possible ways of informing consumers about genetic
modification. The latter two studies were quantitative.
One was a cross-national survey which investigated the formation of consumer
attitudes and purchase decisions, and the other was an experiment to investigate
attitudinal and choice effects of information provision. The project was
concluded with a European seminar where major results were presented to
and discussed with leading representatives from industry, science, consumer
organisations, government institutions etc. All empirical research was
conducted in four countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.
Main findings and outcome
Results of the project showed that consumers' attitudes towards GM food
products are highly negative. This holds true at the general level, as
shown in the survey attitude measurements, and at the product level, as
shown in the laddering study and in the survey purchase intention measurements.
Differences were found between countries in the degree of negativity.
Danish and German consumers were generally found to be more averse towards
genetic modification in food production than British and particularly
Italian consumers. Negative attitudes were linked to uncertainty and a
host of diffuse negative risk perceptions. The laddering study showed
that GM foods were thought of as being unwholesome, unfamiliar and unnecessary.
They were also perceived to lead to undesirable consequences such as being
harmful to nature, not healthy, untrustworthy and morally wrong. These
associations did not seem to be product specific. Negative attitudes were
linked to more fundamental, underlying attitudes including those towards
technology, nature, alienation from the marketplace and food neophobia.
This suggested that opinions of GM foods are quite strong, despite their
lack of basis in actual product experience. Negative attitudes were shown
to have a major impact on purchase intentions. The cross-national survey
showed that attitudes towards the use of genetic modification in food
production, attitudes towards purchasing a specific GM food product and
purchase intentions were strongly related. This indicated that consumers
do not evaluate GM products on a case-by-case basis but rather reject
the technology overall. Perceptions of benefits are hindered by the perceptions
of risks. The survey showed that to a large degree, perception of benefits
was determined by risks associated with using genetic modification in
food production. The laddering study showed that even though explicit
benefits are built into the products, communicated and sometimes even
perceived as relevant, they are not mirrored in product preferences. Information
mainly activates existing attitudes, with experiments showing that information
provision increases the relationship between prior attitude and choice
behaviour, regardless of the kind of information or information source.
Likewise, the experiments showed that giving information decreased the
likelihood of choosing the GM products.
Consumer attitudes and purchase decisions concerning genetically modified
foods are generally negative, highly complex and are based on several
Bredahl, L., "Determinants of consumer attitudes and purchase
intentions with regard to genetically modified foods - results
of a cross-national survey".
Journal of Consumer Policy, 24, 2001, pp. 23-61.
Bredahl L., "Consumers' cognitions with regard to genetically
modified foods - results of a qualitative study in four countries".
Appetite, 33, 1999, pp. 343-360.
Bredahl L., Grunert K.G. and Frewer L.J., "Consumer attitudes
and decision-making with regard to genetically engineered food
products - a review of the literature and a presentation of models
for future research".
Journal of Consumer Policy, 21, 1999, pp. 251-277.
Scholderer J., Balderjahn I., Bredahl L. and Grunert K.G., "The
perceived risks and benefits of genetically modified food products:
Experts versus consumers".
European Advances in Consumer Research, 4, in press.
Frewer L.J., Scholderer J., Downs C. and Bredahl L., Communicating
about the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods - Effects
of different information strategies, MAPP working paper no
71, The Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus, 2000.
L.J., Scholderer J. and Bredahl L., "Communicating about
the risks and benefits of genetically modified foods: The mediating
role of trust".
Risk Analysis, in press.
December 1996 - November 1999
The Aarhus School of Business (DK)
VTT Biotechnology and Food Research (FI)
E. Bech Hansen
Chr. Hansen A/S
Universität Potsdam (DE)
Institute of Food Research