The report, published in the Food Quality and Preference journal, reveals a strong correlation between knowledge and acceptance of new technologies. It suggests that as people become more informed about technologies, their attitudes may become more positive.
“Food irradiation, in particular, becomes more acceptable as consumers become more informed, principally because their concerns about its effects on the environment and nutrition are eased,” it states.
The report stresses that not only is information important, but so is the way in which that information is presented. “Advocacy groups have the potential power to slowdown or halt the development and implementation of food technologies through their presentation of information,” it states.
The authors point to the results of a USDA consumer survey, which revealed that, until now, most consumers have learnt about biotechnology and irradiation through research on organic methods.
“Knowledge about organic production seems to be the gateway to knowledge about the other technologies,” they wrote. “Very few people knew about biotechnology or irradiation if they did not also know about organic methods, whereas many people knew about organic production who did not know about one or both of the other technologies.”
With most organic groups portraying biotechnology and irradiation in a negative way, these technologies have therefore become less acceptable.
The report concludes that with a relatively low number of people considering themselves informed about biotechnology and irradiation, there is scope for the food industry to become involved in “active education” to shape future consumer attitudes towards these technologies.
“The number of people who consider themselves informed about these two technologies is still low, which means that, at least in the USA, substantial numbers of people are available to learn more about the technologies,” it states.
The findings of the report have implications for the way in which the food industry approaches the communication of information on biotechnology and irradiation.
It suggests that consumers are more likely to know about, and accept, organic foods because they are clearly labeled and widely available – a point which provides an interesting perspective on the biotechnology labeling debate.
“If our hypothesis is correct, then the lack of biotechnology labeling may have hindered the ability of biotechnology proponents to positively influence attitudes toward foods produced with biotechnology,” the authors wrote.
Source: Food Quality and Preference
Vol. 20 (2009) pp. 586–596
"Information effects on consumer attitudes toward three food technologies: Organic production, biotechnology, and irradiation"
Authors: Mario F. Teisl, Sara B. Fein and Alan S. Levy