European consumers will buy genetically-modified foods when they are available to them, a new study has suggested.

The study, entitled Do European Consumers Buy GM Foods?, sets out to find how consumers actually behave in ten European markets - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

In its findings, its author Professor Vivian Moses of King's College London said: "It is always dangerous to give simple answers to complex questions; any answer to this one will certainly not encompass all European consumers. Our inquiries have shown much variety in the ten Member States of our study but nevertheless in a broad sense, the answer is 'yes - when they have the opportunity'."

Indeed, despite the media attention GM foods garner in the various national press, GM remains a relatively minor consideration for consumers.

"Focus groups studies showed that GM-food is not uppermost in people's minds when discussing food purchasing habits. Labelling was demanded by the participants yet few of them actually looked at the labels when buying food. Sceptical arguments were more dominant than consideration of benefits but it seems likely that, in the future, climate and population restraints to food availability may lead to more accepting attitudes towards GM-foods," the study said.

However, there also still remains some confusion about GM foods in consumers' minds, in particular over labelling.

"Overall, people seem not to be able to recognise GM-food in spite of the labelling requirements. But this does not appear to be a problem as people are in general are not careful to avoid these products, a conclusion supported by the scant attention paid to labels. However people do react differently towards GM-free-labelled products, suggesting that those products are chosen with greater thought on the part of consumers who want them," the study concluded.

In fact, a large number of consumers wrongly thought they had not bought GM foods when in fact they had.

"In practice, shoppers frequently behaved differently from the way they say they would do. One third of the respondents were wrong in their perceptions about their GM-purchases while another third did not know what they had bought."

Just over 21% and 23% of consumers who actually had or had not chosen GM-foods, respectively, said they believed they had bought GM-products. Moreover, of the people who did buy GM-labelled foods, 48% said they would not buy such products.