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Consumer Willingness to Pay for GM Food Benefits: Pay-off or Empty Promise? Implications for the Food Industry

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Choices Magazine, 4th Quarter 2005 CHOICES The magazine of food, farm, and resource issues 4th Quarter 2005 • 20(4) CHOICES 223 A publication of the American Agricultural Economics Association 4th Quarter 2005 • 20(4) ©1999–2005 CHOICES. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced or electronically distributed as long as attribution to Choices and the American Agricultural Economics Association is maintained. Choices subscriptions are free and can be obtained through Consumer Willingness to Pay for GM Food Benefits: Pay-off or Empty Promise? Implications for the Food Industry by Benjamin Onyango and Ramu Govindasamy The Promise of Ag-Biotech The biotechnology industry has spent substantial money researching and developing genetically modified (GM) products with tangible consumer benefits. The potential benefits include longer shelf stability, enhanced sensory appeal, reduced allergenicity, and nutritional or wellness attributes (Riley & Hoffman, 1999; Feldman et al., 2000). It is understandable that these distinct consumer GM food products’ benefits (which are not available in the non-GM products) are likely to be critically important for broad consumer acceptance. However, as GM food products with enhanced and functional attributes appear in the marketplace, consumers will be faced with the choice between GM products bringing tangible benefits (but car- rying unknown risks) and the traditional non-GM prod- ucts that do not provide distinct and tangible consumer benefits. It is important that researchers contribute to the ongo- ing discourse over benefits and risks of biotechnology by providing scientifically credible information on how con- sumers value various food attributes, including process attributes such as genetic modification. This is especially true given that food consumption in the United States and other developed countries is driven by factors other than physiological need. The majority of consumers in these countries want food

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