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Consumers’ Complex Relationship with Genetically Engineered Foods

Labels and seals, as discussed in NMI’s last article, are ubiquitous.  Perhaps the genesis of these claims, at least in the US, was the 1990 passage of the law mandating the Nutrition Facts Label.  Consumers came to expect more fact-based information on packages, and NMI has measured increased readership of labels over the years.  However, one area where product labeling falls somewhat short (at least in some countries) is with respect to genetically modified organisms or ingredients (GMOs).  Proponents of GMOs point to the many advantages they can offer in resisting disease and lowering resource demands, while opponents worry about the potential long-term health and environmental impacts.  But, what do consumers think? 

Concern about GMOs

As consumers are moving toward more natural foods and ingredients, they are showing strong awareness of genetically-modified foods. According to a recent NMI study, six in 10 US consumers are aware of the term, “genetically-modified organisms,”  while one-quarter of the American adults report concern about genetically-modified organisms. LOHAS consumers, the early adopting and influential green consumer, are nearly twice as likely as the general population be concerned.

Importance of No Genetically Modified Ingredients

As illustrated in Figure 2, “no genetically modified ingredients” is very important to consumers’ food and beverage purchase decisions. It ranked in the top five for six out of 10 countries surveyed by NMI. Across the countries surveyed, no genetically modified ingredients is, by far, most important in Russia, where six in 10 consumers rated it as being very important. About half of Italian and German respondents rated it as being very important. No GMOs also ranked within the top five food/beverage attributes in France and the UK, at about four in 10 consumers. In fact, European consumers’ concern about GMOs is so strong that the majority of foods that have more than 0.9% GMOs must be labeled.

These data may surprise the Americans readers as this is a much hotter issue in other countries.  US consumers care less in both a relative (no GMO’s ranks 15th) and absolute (only 29% think it’s very important) sense.  However, as with other trends related to health and sustainability, it may be instructive to study the debate ongoing in Europe as a predictor of what the future may hold here.  


Figure 2


Concern about GMOs varies significantly around the world, and food and beverage manufacturers need to understand consumer dynamics to insure their products are in-line with consumer needs.  US consumers currently lag most other countries on this issue, but with the migration to natural and organic foods, watch for this issue, and the associated labeling, to become more widespread.




Ms. Rogers' specialty, strategic analysis and planning for LOHAS related organizations, evolves from her Masters in Environmental Management and MBA from Duke University. She brings many years of specific experience in environmental consulting where she served various companies such as… [Read more about Gwynne Rogers]

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