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Commentary:  Will Consumers Pay More for GMO Food?


Current consumer research indicates that consumers say they will pay a higher prices for food with certain attributes. It has already been proven by the marketplace that shoppers will pay a higher price for organic food products, even when most have no idea what that really means. Surveys suggest that consumers say they will pay more for ethically produced foods, even they have no idea what that means. With this as a background, I feel it will not be long before consumers will be willing to pay more for genetically engineered foods.

Now this may seem a bit of a stretch given the current consumer resistance to food items labeled with GMO. For the most part, the biotechnology in food products today benefits the producer and the processor and not the consumer. All that is about to change.

Coming very soon are food products with benefits consumers want, made possible by biotechnology, for example, peanuts that that do not cause allergic reactions. This has already been accomplished. Also in the pipeline, wheat without gluten Then there are apples that do not turn brown in your kid’s lunchbox. Next will be foods fortified with healthy attributes and, perhaps, chocolate, soda, donuts, and beer that don’t make you fat.

A Nielsen survey reveals that almost two-thirds (66%) of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies who are committed to positive social and environmental impact. That represents a sizable jump from 55% last year and 50% the year before. If shoppers are willing to pay more for something that just makes them feel good emotionally, how much more are they going to want food products that make them feel good physically? Food producers and retailers are still skeptical and unwilling to make a chance.

Irradiation is technology that could eliminate many of the food safety issues today and could literally save lives. However, it is something consumers are not willing to accept in the marketplace.

Biotechnology has been proven safe; it is simply a lack of confidence and understanding that keeps consumers from accepting the technology today. When food starts showing up on stores shelves with traits that consumers want, they may not only be willing to buy them, but perhaps even pay more for them.

Another development that may drive consumer acceptance of biotechnology is that soon some food products will only be available in GMO form. The orange and banana industries are facing serious disease issues. There are predictions that only trees that have been altered genetically will survive. This may force a soccer mom to choose between allowing biotechnology in her child’s orange juice or going without.

The key will be to keep biotechnology from being so villainized that consumer acceptance becomes too difficult to overcome. All these products are coming soon, and this may be one of the reasons the organic industry is pushing so hard to discredit the technology and to impose regulations to slow its advancement.

                                      By Gary Truitt