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EC-sponsored Research on Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms - A Review of Results
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image Consumer attitudes and decision-making with regard to genetically modified food products

Background and objectives

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 food products.

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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 factors.


Major publications

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.

Frewer 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.

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Contract number

December 1996 - November 1999

K.G. Grunert
The Aarhus School of Business (DK)

Project website address




H. Söderlund
VTT Biotechnology and Food Research (FI)

E. Pajunen
Oy Panimolaboratorio-
Bryggerilaboratoriet AB
Espoo (FI)

E. Bech Hansen
Chr. Hansen A/S
Hørsholm (DK)

I. Balderjahn
Universität Potsdam (DE)

G. Morello
Palermo (IT)

L. Frewer
Institute of Food Research
Norwich (UK)

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