Sveriges lantbruksuniversitet

Consumer attitudes and behaviour

Here you can read summaries of some of the publications from our research. You can read more about the research projects here

EU consumers less negative about GMOs than previously believed

In a meta-study combining the results from over 1,600 questions in 241 different studies in 58 regions we show 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 Rumania, 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.

Hess, S., Lagerkvist, C. J., Redekop, W., & Pakseresht, A. 2016. Consumers’ evaluation of biotechnologically modified food products: new evidence from a meta-surveyEuropean Review of Agricultural Economics 43 (5): 703-736

Regulations affect our choice of genetically modified food

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.

Pakseresht, A., McFadden, B.R. & Lagerkvist, C.J. 2017. 
Consumer acceptance of food biotechnology based on policy context and upstream acceptance: evidence from an artefactual field experimentEuropean Review of Agricultural Economics 44:757-780

Stakeholder reservations against genetic modification do not apply to genome editing

Genetic modification has been highly debated since the first commercialized crop was introduced. Those who develop genetically modified crops face consumer concerns, strict regulations and rigorous testing. All this might be circumvented with the new biotechnological advancements such as the genome editing technique CRISPR/Cas9.

In her Master Thesis, Sanaz Habibi found that the most prevalent reservations against GMOs, from different stakeholders and anti-GM NGOs in Sweden, do not apply to the new technique. But whether genome editing will be available or not, and accepted among Swedish stakeholders, depends on its legal classification, which the EU Commission has yet to determine. Arguments that have been raised against GMO’s (ranked by no. of stakeholders listing)

1. Risks of endangering the biodiversity, ecosystem and environment
2. Unethical applications
3. Risks of endangering human and animal health
4. Corporate control and farmer dependence
5. Uncertainty of long-term effects
6. Unnaturalness

Sanaz Habibi also found that the stakeholder reservations against GMOs are often based on generalizations and misconceptions. Most of the concerns are based on the technology that is involved rather than the GMOs that are produced, reflecting conformity with the current GMO regulations. Many of the reservations against GMOs seem to lack relevance for the alternative methods of breeding, such as mutagenesis.

To put the issue of GMOs and genome editing techniques in a broader perspective, Sanaz compared how the reservations apply to conventional breeding. The comparison shows that the general reservations against GMOs also can be applied on conventional breeding.

Master thesis
Habibi, S. 2018. GMO perceptions among Swedish stakeholders and their implication on the acceptance of a new biotechnological advancement. Uppsala University ISSN 1650-6553 ; 2018/3

Published: 16 August 2018 - Page editor: