European consumers would reject GM food even if there were benefits to it over and above ordinary food. This is a key conclusion from the latest official survey for the European Commission.

The Eurobarometer survey first reinforces past findings. “A majority of Europeans do not support GM foods. These are judged not to be useful and to be risky for society” the survey reported.

However, consumers across all European Union states were further asked whether they would purchase GM foods if one of five possible benefits also resulted. The survey stressed that these were “hypothetical” questions but asked whether consumers would buy GM food if it was cheaper, tasted better, contained less pesticide residue, was more environmentally friendly, or contained less fat.

“For all of the hypothetical situations there are more Europeans saying they would not buy or eat GM foods than those saying they would” the survey reported. It observed that “Lower price is apparently the least incentive for buying GM foods”.

“These findings will be a blow to GM seed developers. They are very much hoping that if new GM varieties were to offer benefits to consumers that resistance to GM food would fall away” said Sustainability Council Executive Director, Simon Terry. “This survey does not support that assumption.”

“Europe is still our biggest export market, especially for fresh produce. These findings reinforce what a huge economic risk New Zealand runs if it allows for the commercial release of GMOs” he said. “New Zealand should retain its status as a GM Free food producer at least until there is market acceptance of GM.”

“Consumer rejection of GM food is driving six European countries to hold back moves to end the de facto moratorium on GM release that has been in place since 1998. As a minimum, they want a series of backstops in place including strong laws for liability, labelling and traceability of GM”.

“New Zealand should also have these backstop protections, but the proposed liability laws are weak by comparison to those developed for the EU and traceability rules have not even been proposed for New Zealand.”

“New Zealand’s status as a GM Free food producer is a an integral part of the nation’s clean green brand. To think of giving that up before all New Zealand’s major export markets show acceptance of GM food would be a strategic blunder.”

The Eurobarometer report is just one of a series of surveys and market reports that have consistently documented strong European consumer concerns. Sources that do forecast a turnaround in attitudes say that this would not be for five to ten years at the earliest.

Reference: Europeans and Biotechnology in 2002: Eurobarometer 58.0, A report to the EC Directorate General for Research, March 2003.