Consumer attitudes about biotech crops remains a bit of a mystery in the United States, but a new survey conducted by Kansas State University shows that potential buyers may know little and they don't worry about the technology. However, when informed that some groups oppose the technology, some consumers are less likely to buy biotech-based foods.
"We've surveyed people about a range of issues in the past," says Sean Fox, KSU professor of agricultural economics. "Much of that has been on such topics as irradiation and consumer attitudes about that. But we know that eventually biotech wheat will be coming to market and we wanted to know more about consumer attitudes in this area."
Biotech wheat nearly made it to market a few years ago, but consumer and industry pressures put a halt to commercial release. It appears domestic buyers may not be so worried, according to the survey Fox coordinated.
Fox surveyed households in metropolitan Kansas City and the questionnaire included a definition of genetic modification as "a process in which a plant or animal's genetic makeup is altered by implanting genes from other organisms." Every survey subject received that comment in their questionnaire, but then the survey was split in two ways:
Half the households received a survey containing a statement about opposition to biotech noting that "consumer and environmental groups such as the Organic Consumer Association, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are very opposed to GM technology because they believe it creates significant health risks for consumers and will damage the environment."
The other half received a survey stating that "current crops that are produced with GM technology include soybeans, corn and canola. These crops are processed into ingredients that are frequently used in bread."
In the whole group - one fourth received both the above statements while one-fourth received neither of the mitigating comments.
Among all households 68% say they would purchase biotech wheat-based products, but 67% indicated they had not heard about genetic modification and knew little about it. However, when given the chance to decide to avoid biotech by paying more for non-biotech versions of a wheat-based product, the survey showed an interesting reaction. About 72% of respondents say they would not pay more to get a GM-free product.
However, statements about objections to biotech did have an impact in the survey. Households that received the survey containing the statement about opposition to the technology were less likely to accept biotech-processed wheat products and were willing to pay an addition 12 cents for a loaf of bread to avoid biotech wheat.
Yet telling consumers that many wheat products already contain some biotech ingredients didn't impact their decision whether or not to purchase those products, regardless of whether they were told about opposition to GM or not.
Fox notes telling people about biotech wheat didn't impact their buying decision adding that "overall acceptance was pretty high."
In the end, are consumers ready for biotech wheat? Perhaps U.S. buyers are since biotech products have been in commercial foods for more than a decade. However, worldwide acceptance of the technology will still slow development for the time being.