Rupert Loader and Spencer Henson
Centre for Food Economics Research at the University of Reading, UK

Food Consumers In The UK And GMOs

At the present time, the genetically modified organism (GMO) issue is rapidly emerging as the next big theme in European food production post-BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). The key question in this context is the degree to which the release of GMO-containing food products onto the United Kingdom (UK) market (and the associated press coverage) will further damage consumer confidence in the food supply chain and influence the types of food which consumers choose to buy.

At the current time it is difficult to predict the impact of the GMO issue on consumer food choices in the UK. Whilst a growing proportion of consumers are aware of GMOs as a food issue, few are well informed as to what genetic modification actually is and the implications for food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare, and so on. Consumer surveys suggest that consumers are ambivalent about GMOs in the context of their food choices; in general only a small proportion indicate that they definitely would/would not buy GMO-containing food products if they were available (figure 1). Given that, to date, consumers have not faced a choice between GMO and non-GMO food products at the point of purchase, it is difficult to predict whether there will be widespread acceptance or rejection of GMO products. In the one case where a GMO and non-GMO variety of the same product (canned tomato paste) existed side-by-side on the supermarket shelf, consumers were willing to buy the GMO product, although in this case it was cheaper. Read more . . .