A new report from Mintel reveals that almost 50% of adults consider GM foods to be the most worrying food safety concern. The hardening of public opinion on the issue of GM foods is highlighted, concern levels increasing by a significant 11 percentage points in just 8 months.

In 1998, 36% of consumers found genetically modified food to be the food issue which they were most concerned about, this rose to 47% in 1999 – revealing how rapidly the debate over food safety has shifted in such a short period of time.

Objection to GM foods is heightened by almost a fifth of adults who stated that they would never “knowingly eat or feed their family” anything containing genetically modified foods.

The Anti-GM camp

Findings underline the role of women as guardians of family eating habits through the shopping basket. Women retain the strongest misgivings over GM foods, with over 50% displaying concern in this area. By age, those 24 and above showed considerably greater levels of concern over GM foods; Concern peaking at 53% among the 45-54 age group, compared to 36% of those aged 15-19 years old. In terms of region, those in London exhibited the highest fears at 53% compared to just 38% of Scots.

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By GlobalData

More labels please

A resounding 75% of the population definitely agreed that, genetically modified or genetically engineered foods or food ingredients should be clearly labelled. Surprisingly, levels of agreement diminished slightly in the eight-month interim between the two surveys. The down-turn may reflect the moves by leading grocery multiples to delist GM ingredients from their own label products, which may have helped allay public fears on this issue.

Ignorance heightening public concern

Lack of knowledge and insufficient research are likely to be heightening public concern. Some 47% of consumers felt that they did not know enough about the issue to make an informed judgement, while 37% did not feel enough research had been carried out on the subject.

GM fatigue

For a fifth of consumers, too much hype surrounds genetically modified foods issue. Those particularly caught up in GM hysteria include Southerners, where a third felt they were suffering from over-exposure, closely followed by the Scots at 28%.

Memories of BSE live on………

Almost a third of the sample displayed mis-trust towards the government, stating “you can’t trust what the government says on GM foods”. Scepticism peaked among the 45-54 year olds, with almost 40% displaying lack of faith in the government.

Indeed, the BSE food scare in Britain is widely thought to be a factor in the present cautious disposition of the public to GM foods. A core 36% of the public still consider BSE/Mad Cow Disease to be the number one food safety issue, this figure remaining virtually static in the past year. “Memories of the BSE crisis will continue to beset the efforts of biotechnology companies in their efforts to develop GM foods” comments James McCoy, Senior Consultant-Consumer Goods.

*’Consumer Attitudes Towards GM Foods’ is available from Mintel. Price: £495.
Further details, tables and charts available from Amanda White in the press office.
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