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GMOs with a kick


Can the trend for foods with added health benefits turn the tide of consumer cynicism towards genetically modified foodstuffs? US researchers hypothesise that shoppers might just pay a premium for GMOs if they are told of the potential health benefits they may receive from eating those foods.

Jayson Lusk , a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue university, used a mail survey to assess how much consumers are willing to pay for a genetically modified food called golden rice.

Lusk found that regardless of demographic factors, including age, gender, income and level of education, consumers may be willing to pay more for the GM golden rice versus a non-GM white rice, if they perceive a direct personal benefit from the GM product.

Golden rice, which is not yet commercially available, contains a daffodil gene that produces a compound the human body converts to vitamin A. The researcher provided background information about golden rice to all survey participants.

For Lusk, his findings went against the common grain. He claimed that consumers in previous studies indicated they would pay a premium for foods that had not been genetically modified - the exact opposite of what he found in this study. He attributes the difference to this study's emphasis on the potential benefits of golden rice from a consumer's, rather than a producer's, point of view.

"The first generation of GM products came from technologies that tended to benefit farmers, like Roundup Ready crops and Bt corn," said Lusk. "Consumers don't see a lot of benefit from those products except for perhaps a very small decrease in price. Other than that, consumers have been asked to take a risk without any benefit to them at all," he added.

The next generation of GM foods will be those like golden rice that provide direct benefits, such as improved nutritional quality or enhanced shelf life, to the consumer, he predicted. As the biotechnology industry shifts more of its promotion effort to these second generation crops, he said producers will need to know if consumers will be more accepting of GM foods that offer benefits to them.

"While consumers might perceive somewhat of a risk with GM foods, they may also see a benefit. In this study, it appears that the nutritional benefits of a GM food outweigh their perception of risk."

Lusk's paper appears in the November issue of the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

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