GM foods get thumbs-down in Nordic survey

Researchers find "remarkably similar" consumer scepticism across four countries

Nordic consumers are united in their negative attitude to genetically modified (GM) food, according to a new survey.

The study used three food products as example - hard cheese, hard sweets and salmon; and three types of applications of genetic modification: modification of the raw material, use of genetic modification in enzyme production and use of GM micro-organisms. Three "levels of presence" of the GM material in the final product were also put to the consumer sample: not present, present, or present and living/able to function.

Results from consumer samples in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden were "remarkably similar" write the survey's authors, "showing a strong stability in consumer reactions" to GM food in these four countries.

Consumer perception was characterised by "a basic dichotomy": foodstuffs were either GM or not. "It is regarded as a major benefit in itself that a product is non-GM. When a product involves genetic modification, this elicits numerous negative associations, of which the strongest ones are 'unhealthy' and 'uncertainty'," the authors write.

Types of application of genetic modification also had an impact on consumer acceptance, but differed across products. "Still, there is a clear tendency that acceptance of salmon products where the salmon itself was genetically modified was lowest among all products tested."

Consumers were aware of potential benefits of GM technology, such as improved taste, functional benefits and environmental benefits. But these "could not compensate" for its negative associations. Some supposed benefits, such as faster salmon growth, were perceived as disadvantages. GM products that were least mistrusted combined personal tangible benefits with societal relevance, such as low-calorie sweets that could be consumed by diabetics.

The study was carried out by research institutions in the four countries in connection with a wide-ranging "consumers and biotechnology" project initiated by the Nordic Industrial Fund.

Follow Up:
Nordic Industrial Fund, tel: +47 23 35 45 55; Technical Research Centre of Finland, tel: +358 9 456 5965.

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