In Europe, there is a rather widespread contention that consumers are opposed to genetically modified (GM) food. This has been used to support the prevailing restrictive policy. However, the 2010 Eurobarometer survey suggested that Europeans have now become more optimistic about biotechnology in general, due to increased concerns about energy and sustainability. The increased optimism was previously not of great importance, but the European Commission recently proposed new rules allowing ‘opt-outs’ by member states from a Europe-wide approval system for food items derived from biotechnology. This policy shift allows member states to institute an unlimited, or case-specific, moratorium on commercial release of GM foods within their respective territories and localities. Thus, regulations may soon vary across member states, allowing food value chain actors (including farmers, food processing companies, food retailers and policy makers) more autonomy regarding biotechnology adoption decisions.
A set of experiments was performed in Sweden to test whether changing the policy context and acceptance by upstream actors influence consumer acceptance of a GM product with direct tangible health benefits and indirect environmental benefits. The results indicated that acceptance was lower in more restrictive policy scenarios and higher in less restrictive contexts. Moreover, acceptance of upstream actors was policy context-dependent and differed between participants opposed to or accepting the technology. These studies show that consumers draw inferences from information about actions taken by upstream actors in the food chain and adapt their choices to these actions.