Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on March 10, 2003. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Cookies measure consumer attitudes
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Researchers used the value Americans and Europeans placed on a chocolate chip cookie to determine consumer attitudes towards genetically modified foods.
The research, conducted jointly by Mississippi State University and the University of Reading, England, found that Americans on average are less concerned about consuming genetically modified foods than their European counterparts.
Jayson Lusk, agricultural economist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, said research in the summer and fall of 2002 involved primary household shoppers in Long Beach, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Lubbock, Texas; Reading, England; and Grenoble, France. Subjects in each case were asked questions to determine their knowledge of and attitudes about the use of genetic modification in foods. Then they participated in an auction to determine their preferences for a genetically modified chocolate chip cookie.
"We had consumers in each of the locations participate in an active market exercise that involved the exchange of real food and real money to determine the price-premium they placed on a chocolate chip cookie containing no genetically modified ingredients versus one containing genetically modified ingredients," Lusk said.
Each consumer was given a cookie free of genetically modified ingredients. In an auction setting, researchers determined how much money it took to get these consumers to exchange their cookie for one containing genetically modified ingredients. All participants had to eat the cookie at the end of the exercise.
"U.S. consumers were much more willing to consume the genetically modified cookie than were the European consumers," Lusk said.
More than 65 percent of the Americans either exchanged the cookie for free or required less than $.25 to make the trade. Only 37 percent of the English and 27 percent of the French required similar compensation.
"In contrast, 52 percent of the French consumers demanded more than $2 to eat a genetically modified cookie, while only 16 percent of the English and 9 percent of the Americans required a similar price," Lusk said.
He said the data indicates on average, European consumers are more concerned about genetically modified food than are U.S. consumers, but there are significant segments of the English and French populations with relatively low concern about this issue.
"Having established that there are differences in U.S. and European consumers, the interesting question now becomes why these differences exist," Lusk said.
The survey that accompanied the cookie auction addressed this question. Lusk said researchers theorized some differences in opinion may exist because of differences in knowledge, trust, general attitudes about the environment, food and technology, and perceptions of the benefits and risks of biotechnology.
Lusk said the survey found French consumers strongly believed they were knowledgeable about genetically modified foods, but true/false questions revealed little difference in actual knowledge among consumers in the three countries. Responses showed all the consumers had moderate to low objective knowledge about genetically modified foods.
"The French and English consumers were much more concerned about the environment in general, and view genetically modified foods as a greater risk to the environment than do U.S. consumers," Lusk said. "English and French consumers were much less optimistic about the ability of technology in general to improve society and civilization than were U.S. consumers."
Among the Americans surveyed, California consumers held opinions more similar to those of European consumers than the U.S. consumers in Texas and Florida. California consumers demanded an average of two times as much money as consumers in Texas and Florida to exchange their non-modified cookie for one that contained genetically modified ingredients.
Lusk said U.S. consumers trust federal food regulatory agencies and agribusinesses while their European counterparts tend to believe activist groups. The only demographic that appeared to influence consumers' acceptance was age, with older consumers more acceptant of genetic modification of food than were younger consumers.
Lusk said the findings should help agricultural producers understand consumer demand for genetically modified foods and help predict future changes in market opportunities. Since a large portion of the U.S. agricultural output is exported, American producers need to know international consumers' perceptions of genetically modified foods.
Contact: Dr. Jayson Lusk, (662) 325-3796