The early and mid-1990s saw a heated public debate about the introduction of GM foods in Europe. The question about the "right way" of communicating risks and benefits to consumers was especially cumbersome, and normative positions (rather than empirical consumer research) determined the approach that was finally adopted. In the late 1990s, transparency and the precautionary principle became official standards to which consumer policy in the European Union had to conform. There seems to be shared expectation now among stakeholders that this policy will restore consumers' trust in the European food system. Scholderer et al. (1999) investigated the assumptions on which this consensus was based. A majority of the stakeholder representatives they interviewed believed that negative consumer attitudes resulted from a lack of information. Lack of information was thought to cause uncertainty about risks and benefits and, subsequently, negative evaluation of the entire technology on terms of the precautionary principle. Providing the public with objective information, the experts thought, would enable them to rationally weigh risks against benefits, proceed to a positive attitude, and act upon this through an informed purchase decision. Unfortunately, things are not that simple. Previous research has shown that Europeans already hold firm negative attitudes to GM foods. These attitudes are not based on risk-benefit evaluations of particular products. Rather, they seem to be a function of consumers? general sociopolitical attitudes and values (Bredahl, 2001). This is not exactly surprising: when confronted with product concepts they have no knowledge about, consumers have to base their evaluations on general attitudes simply because attitudes are the only source of evaluation-relevant information that is accessible to them (Scholderer et al., 2000). In policy terms, however, this is clearly undesirable. Two approaches can in principle be adopted to improve the situation: (a) consumers can be actively informed about the risks and benefits of GM foods, i.e. before the products are launched into the market, and (b) consumers can be given the opportunity to evaluate GM products on the basis of direct experience, i.e. after the products have been launched. The first approach represents the transparency/precaution policy that was actually adopted in Europe, whilst the second one was dismissed after confrontations arose between different stakeholder groups in connection with Nestle's "Butterfinger" launch in 1998. Both approaches would have to compete against a strong network of pre-existing consumer attitudes, but surprisingly, neither of them has ever been experimentally tested on a broad scale. Two experiments will be presented now in an attempt to close this gap.
MAPP; Forbrugerpolitik; Genmoficerede fødevarer; Holdningsændring; Informationseffekt; Effekter af direkte oplevelse; Gennemskuelighed; Consumer policy; Genetic modified foods; Attitude change; Information effect; Direct experience effects; Transparency
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3rd EURSAFE Congress "Food Safety, Food Quality and Food Ethics", 2001