Social studies (Eurobarometer 2003 and 2006) as facts as well, prove a widespread demand by European citizens for exhaustive knowledge and reassurance on the risks and benefits related to gene technology, resulting the genetically modified food the most controversial issue. Lay citizens and consumers associate to genetically modified (GM) organisms various hazards for the human health and the environment. Nowadays, GM crop diffusion is spreading around the world, whilst production of novel food is in progress, as scientific research is developing genetically modified products of "new generation" that would better match the consumers’ interest. Thus, food with enhanced nutritional quality or with integrative compounds such as vitamins and vaccines are the new promises; crops providing benefits for the environment, such as intrinsically disease resistances and phytoremediation, would be the further challenge. In our study we wanted to evaluate the willingness of the consumers of our territory (Province of Trento, Italy) to buy food of "new generation", by analyzing whether the promise of benefits for their health and the environment would modify their distrust of GM products. After two preliminary focus groups where alternative choice scenarios were designed, ad hoc questionnaires were administered to a random sample of consumers. Their preferences for various hypothetical genetic modifications in a food product of large consumption ‐that is yoghurt‐ were analyzed adopting a Discrete Choice approach. This methodology, consistently with welfare economics, assumes that people purchase goods by comparing the costs and the benefits of each alternative that market may propose to them. With this methodology applied on our consumers’ responses, we were able to evaluate their behavior related to hypothetically benefits associated to a novel GM food, and to know their cost‐benefit valuation based on their willingness to pay for it. Risk perception resulted to overcome the promised benefits offered by our hypothetical GM yoghurts. However, opinions seemed to diverge according to the kind of benefit promised by the GM ingredients that was alternatively characterized by a putative reduction in the production costs, a preventive protection against severe health diseases, or a low environmental impact. Finally, a relevant outcome of our study were some considerations that we believe would be useful for the institutions and the scientific community toward the definition of a suitable approach for managing the communication on the GM issues. Among them, the need to provide citizens‐consumers with proper criteria for exercising informed choices, and the urgency to develop guidelines for scientific research and communication that can successfully deal with the priorities expressed by the public opinion. Research supported by Trento Autonomous Province, Project EcoGenEtic.Com

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Citizens' concerns and informed choices on novel food
Outcomes from a study of the willingness to buy genetically modified products

Floriana Marin   IASMA Research Center

Lucia Martinelli   IASMA Research Center

Social studies (Eurobarometer 2003 and 2006) as facts as well, prove a widespread demand by European citizens for exhaustive knowledge and reassurance on the risks and benefits related to gene technology, resulting the genetically modified food the most controversial issue. Lay citizens and consumers associate to genetically modified (GM) organisms various hazards for the human health and the environment. Nowadays, GM crop diffusion is spreading around the world, whilst production of novel food is in progress, as scientific research is developing genetically modified products of "new generation" that would better match the consumers’ interest. Thus, food with enhanced nutritional quality or with integrative compounds such as vitamins and vaccines are the new promises; crops providing benefits for the environment, such as intrinsically disease resistances and phytoremediation, would be the further challenge. In our study we wanted to evaluate the willingness of the consumers of our territory (Province of Trento, Italy) to buy food of "new generation", by analyzing whether the promise of benefits for their health and the environment would modify their distrust of GM products. After two preliminary focus groups where alternative choice scenarios were designed, ad hoc questionnaires were administered to a random sample of consumers. Their preferences for various hypothetical genetic modifications in a food product of large consumption ‐that is yoghurt‐ were analyzed adopting a Discrete Choice approach. This methodology, consistently with welfare economics, assumes that people purchase goods by comparing the costs and the benefits of each alternative that market may propose to them. With this methodology applied on our consumers’ responses, we were able to evaluate their behavior related to hypothetically benefits associated to a novel GM food, and to know their cost‐benefit valuation based on their willingness to pay for it. Risk perception resulted to overcome the promised benefits offered by our hypothetical GM yoghurts. However, opinions seemed to diverge according to the kind of benefit promised by the GM ingredients that was alternatively characterized by a putative reduction in the production costs, a preventive protection against severe health diseases, or a low environmental impact. Finally, a relevant outcome of our study were some considerations that we believe would be useful for the institutions and the scientific community toward the definition of a suitable approach for managing the communication on the GM issues. Among them, the need to provide citizens‐consumers with proper criteria for exercising informed choices, and the urgency to develop guidelines for scientific research and communication that can successfully deal with the priorities expressed by the public opinion. Research supported by Trento Autonomous Province, Project EcoGenEtic.Com

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