Researchers at the university of Guelph's Food Safety Network report that consumers in the study made choices based on taste and quality, as well as reduced use of chemical pesticides in the production of GM varieties.
"Despite widespread perceptions of consumer concerns regarding the use of genetic engineering in food production, GE varieties outsold conventional sweet corn by a margin of 3:2 (8,160 cobs to 5,430 cobs)," said the researchers.
Confirming an increasingly convincing argument about how to deal with GM foods, lead researcher on the project Dr Douglas Powell said : "The study shows that attitudes towards GE foods may depend on what benefits they offer."
Dr Powell, scientific director of the Food Safety Network, added: "In this case, many customers at the farm market chose GE sweet corn because they perceived advantages in the reduced use of chemical pesticides. Further studies are now needed to test these findings with a broader, more diverse audience."
In the farm-to-fork trial, sweet corn varieties genetically engineered for resistance to specific crop pests using the Bt gene were grown side-by-side with conventional varieties. Strict segregation protocols were maintained throughout production and harvesting, and products were voluntarily labelled to indicate whether they were GE or conventional varieties.
Customers in a local farm market were provided with information on the production protocols, including pest control measures, that were required to produce the different types of sweet corn. Researchers also analysed production data from an economic perspective to compare the costs of GE vs. conventional production.
The researchers interviewed a number of consumers about their attitudes to the corn. They found that while "the majority of consumers interviewed said they were more concerned about pesticides than genetic engineering, taste and quality also had a strong influence on purchasing decisions".
Full findings are published in the latest issue of the British Food Journal(2003) 105, 700-713.
Meanwhile, in Europe last week, divided opinions saw member states failing to suppport the Commission proposal to authorise the first GM foodstuff - BT11 sweetmaize - since the de facto moratorium begun five years ago. The vote now passes to Europe's agriculture ministers.