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EU consumers less negative about GMOs than previously believed

Consumers in the EU do not seem to be much more skeptical of GMOs in food than consumers in other parts of the world, in contrast to what has previously been argued. The reason for this misconception is to a large extent that wording and the context of the questions in a survey can affect the answers.

In a meta-study combining the results from over 1,600 questions in 241 different studies in 58 regions a team of Mistra Biotech researchers shows that previous conclusions on the Europeans' negative attitude towards GM food might be the result of slightly different questions having been asked in Europe compared to other countries.

Previous survey studies have shown that EU citizens are on average more negative than consumers in other regions when it comes to the use of biotechnology, such as genetic modification, in food production. There are countries in the EU where respondents of previous studies had indeed reacted more negatively than the average, i.e., Denmark and Romania, but according to SLU findings this is offset by countries with a more positive attitude like Spain and the Netherlands. Examples of countries outside the EU with more positive views on GMOs in food are USA, India, China, and Uganda, while consumers in Norway, Switzerland, and Japan, were more negative to the same products.

The study confirms previous conclusions about how the wording and the context of the questions can affect the answers. Questions about biotechnology and genetic engineering in European surveys have asked more often about risk or moral and ethical aspects, and that way thus most likely influenced the answers in a negative direction.

The results also show that food consumers in general, regardless their country of origin, tend to be more afraid of the uncertain risk factors than they are optimistic about the potential benefits of biotechnology in food products. Lower price and better taste features build into food products did not affect their attitude significantly, however, food products with medicinal properties were overall viewed as promising.

For more information:
Sebastian Hess, Department of Economics
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)
Tel: +46 (0)72 922 58 24

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