Genetically-modified (GM) foods have met with strong resistance from consumers in the EU, partly due to concerns over long-term health and environmental implications, but also because many products proposed on the market so far have been perceived as delivering benefits to farmers or industry, but not to consumers.
However research is underway to develop GM crops with traits that are beneficial to humans. For instance, biotech firms such as BASF and Monsanto have been working on plants engineered to contain omega-3 long chain fatty acids.
Moreover, the technology can enable gene silencing so that particular allergens can be eliminated from a product. This approach has already been investigated for soy, tomatoes and peanuts, as well as apples.
The new research, which has been accepted for publication in the Elsevier journal Food Quality and Preference, set out to capture the views on an apple that had been engineered to be hypoallergenic amongst consumers with a mild allergy to apples. They wanted to gauge whether consumers might accept both the GM products, and the processes that created them.
Between September 2006 and June 2007, the Santana apple was sold on a pilot basis in one large Dutch supermarket chain, in organic food stores, and at several green grocers, report the researchers from the University of Waganingen.
The apple was packaged with an explanatory leaflet about the Santana brand and apple allergy in general. The leaflet invited purchasers to take part in an on-line survey which took about 8 minutes to complete and which entered the respondent into a lottery to win a €50 gift voucher.
The majority of the 437 respondents self-reported their apple allergy. The researchers created a control group of non-apple allergic consumers recruited from an existing panel.
Helpful to the allergic
The team found that consumers who reported having an allergy to apples perceived the Santana as being more beneficial than those who did not report an allergy.
In over half the self-reported apple allergic respondents the Santana apple did not draw allergic complaints.
They concluded: “Overall, traditional breeding was the preferred production strategy, although acceptance of genetic modification as a process did increase with increasing perceived personal benefit associated with products, in particular those which were ‘medically-related’, or perceived to reduce allergic reactions.”
Environmental reactions were less positive, but the researchers said this appeared to be largely due to concern over pesticide use.
Food Quality and Preference (2010)
Consumer attitudes towards hypoallergenic apples that alleviate mild apple allergy,
Schenk, M.F., van der Maas, M.P., Smulders, M.J.M., Gilissen, L.J.W., Fischer, A.R.H.,
van der Lans, I.A., Jacobsen, E., Frewer, L.J.,