Global consumer opinion split on GM

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Genetically modified foods Maize Africa

Anything that makes food taste better is fine, according to 62 per
cent of South Africans who are familiar with GM foods.

The research, conducted by global market research company Synovate, reveals not only South African acceptance of GM products, but also the enormous global disparity in opinion.

For example, 89 per cent of corresponding Greeks believe that such products may be harmful.

"Greeks have become sensitive to food scares and are more and more suspicious of food origins, because of incidents in neighbouring European countries and also sensationalism in some media,"​ said Maria Darmi, managing director of Synovate Greece.

Synovate surveyed 3,127 respondents in Greece, Indonesia, Poland, Singapore and South Africa in an attempt to discover what ordinary consumers think about the burgeoning technology. The sheer diversity of responses illustrates the difficulty of formulating a global GM trade policy, let alone coherent EU regulations on the matter.

This of course could have implications for food manufacturers, especially those importing goods into the EU from markets such as the US.

Indeed the research echoes the findings of another recent study into public attitudes towards GM foods, which confirmed that attitudes change significantly depending on the type of food being considered.

Speaking at the 2006 Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference in Melbourne, Craig Cormick, manager of public awareness for Biotechnology Australia, said that "consumer attitudes relating to GM foods are complex and studies that simply ask if people would or wouldn't eat GM foods don't do justice to the complexities of public attitudes."

Among consumers who are aware of genetically modified foods, a majority in Greece (89 per cent), Poland (68 per cent), Indonesia (66 per cent) and Singapore (59 per cent) believe such fare may be harmful whereas only one-third of South Africans agree.

But Synovate found that despite these cautious feelings, 46 per cent of Indonesians and 42 per cent of Poles and Singaporeans believe that the benefits of genetically modified foods outweigh the risks.

Price also makes a difference, with 47 per cent of South Africans and 41 per cent of Singaporeans willing to buy genetically modified foods if they are cheaper than non-genetically modified products. By contrast, only 10 per cent of Greeks display such price-consciousness.

The characteristics of genetically modified foods have not been actively marketed or communicated to South African consumers, notes Jon Salters, Synovate's Managing Director for Sub-Saharan Africa.

"This has resulted in a general lack of awareness of their existence and associated risks and benefits. Given this lack of knowledge around GM foods, it is understandable that those products will make their way into the shopper's basket if the price is right."

Synovate is the market research arm of Aegis Group and employs over 5,500 staff across 50 countries.

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