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Consumers choose genetically engineered sweet corn over conventional varieties

03.dec.03, Food Safety Network Press Release, Food Safety Network Press Release

Guelph, Ontario - According to research conducted by the University of Guelph's Food Safety Network and published in the latest issue of the British Food Journal, consumers preferred genetically engineered (GE) sweet corn over conventional sweet corn in a 2000 market experiment. By their own accounts, consumers in the study made choices based on taste and quality, as well as reduced use of chemical pesticides in the production of GE varieties. Despite widespread perceptions of consumer concerns regarding the use of genetic engineering in food production, GE varieties outsold conventional sweet corn by a margin of 3:2.

Despite widespread perceptions of consumer concerns regarding
the use of genetic engineering in food production, GE varieties outsold
conventional sweet corn by a margin of 3:2.

"The study shows that attitudes towards GE foods may depend on what benefits they offer," said Dr. Douglas Powell, scientific director of the Food Safety Network and lead researcher on the project. "In this case, many customers at the farm market chose GE sweet corn because they perceived advantages in the reduced use of chemical pesticides. Further studies are now needed to test these findings with a broader, more diverse audience."

In the farm-to-fork trial, sweet corn and potato varieties genetically engineered for resistance to specific crop pests were grown side-by-side with conventional varieties. Strict segregation protocols were maintained throughout production and harvesting, and products were voluntarily labeled to indicate whether they were GE or conventional varieties.

Customers in a local farm market were provided with information on the
production protocols, including pest control measures, that were required to produce the different types of sweet corn. Researchers also analyzed production data from an economic perspective to compare the costs of GE vs. conventional production.

Unlike the conventional sweet corn tested in the trial, GE varieties required neither insecticide nor fungicide applications. Cool, wet weather in the 2000 growing season resulted in heavy pest pressure, requiring heavy applications of pesticides on conventional varieties, which also suffered more pest damage than GE varieties, despite the control measures.

The study indicated that, from an economic perspective, financial benefits may be realized by growers choosing GE varieties in years of medium to high pest pressure. Given the very specific and limited nature of the trial (one farm during one season), no conclusions can be drawn on whether the effects are scale-dependent.

The Food Safety Network (FSN) at the University of Guelph provides research, commentary, policy evaluation and public information on food safety issues from farm-to-fork. Food safety information can be obtained by contacting FSN at 1-866-503-7638 or fsnrsn@uoguelph.ca , or through the FSN websites at www.foodsafety.ksu.edu and www.eatwelleatsafe.ca


For further information:

D.A. Powell, K. Blaine, S. Morris, J. Wilson. "Agronomic and consumer
considerations for Bt and conventional sweet corn." British Food Journal
Volume 105, Number 10 (2003), pp. 700 - 713.

The Model Farm - Safe Food, from Farm to Fork
http://www.foodsafety.ksu.edu/bt-sweet-corn/bt-index.htm#research

Contacts:
Dr. Douglas Powell, scientific director:
dpowell@uoguelph.ca

Jeff Wilson, Birkbank Farms
(519) 855-6519
Jeff Wilson, owner-operator of Birkbank Farms, the site of the Model Farm
and farm market involved in the study, is currently in Europe presenting
findings from the study He will be available to take media calls after
December 5, 2003.