Consumers' subjective and objective knowledge of genetically modified food in a South African context
Genetically modified (GM) crops were developed as a solution to ensure sustainable food production for an ever-increasing world population, especially in developing countries. As such, products such as GM foods are now part of South African consumers' daily lives. Soy and maize are two of the most common GM food crops in South Africa. Maize is a staple food in South Africa since it is affordable, readily available and easy to prepare, and soy is an important source of protein and an effective stabiliser and filler in processed food in South Africa. As a result, it is inevitable that GM food will be consumed by South African consumers, without them necessarily knowing it. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) (2008) requires mandatory labelling of GM-containing food products in South Africa. In addition, the CPA states that consumers have the right to choose and to the disclosure of information. However, previous studies have demonstrated that consumer knowledge of GM crops is relatively low and raises the question of whether South Africans have sufficient knowledge and the ability to make informed decisions with regard to GM food products. Furthermore, it is unknown whether mandatory GM labelling has contributed toward South African consumers' knowledge of GM foods. Consumers may think they know about GM foods, but their knowledge might not be based on facts. Regulatory GM food labelling is ineffective if it does not empower consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. The purpose of this study was thus to investigate South African consumers' subjective and objective knowledge of GM food, taking their demographic characteristics into account. The quantitative, cross-sectional, exploratory survey was used to obtain information about the GM food knowledge of South African consumers (18 years and older). A non-probability, purposive sampling method was used and respondents voluntarily completed an online questionnaire that was emailed to them by the consumer consultancy agency AskAfrika. Respondents who met the inclusion criteria completed and submitted the questionnaire, where after it was stored on a database. Data was analysed by means of inferential statistics including frequencies and means, and inferential statistics including t-test, ANOVAs and cross tabulations, which yielded effect sizes. It was found that consumers had above average subjective knowledge and average objective knowledge of GM food. Objective knowledge statements that may be related to their daily lives scored higher than technical facts about GM food. Respondents' subjective and objective knowledge were related, indicating that consumers with high levels of subjective knowledge also had high levels of objective knowledge. Although many respondents were not aware of their GM food consumption, those who were aware of their GM consumption had higher subjective and objective knowledge levels than those who did not know. As consumers base their purchasing decisions on knowledge, the results of this study indicate that these decisions might not be based on facts, and we therefore conclude that respondents are not able to make informed decisions with regards to GM food. Although respondents' demographic characteristics had no correlations with their knowledge, the demographic profile of respondents indicated that the majority of respondents were more affluent consumers with tertiary education. If more affluent, educated consumers do not have sufficient GM food knowledge, which enables them to make informed decisions, then the ability of less affluent consumers to make informed decisions based on their GM knowledge is questionable — which is troublesome, since these less affluent and less educated consumers are often dependent on maize and soy staple food products in their daily lives. This research might serve as a foundation for future studies to gain a better understanding of the information consumers rely on to make GM food purchasing decisions. A need for consumer education on the presence of GM ingredients in food products was identified, and future studies could explore methods to educate consumers about GM food in order to facilitate informed purchasing decisions. The food industry could also benefit from this study, as the results can aid in providing consumers with trustworthy information about GM-containing food products, ensuring consumer loyalty and encouraging consumer wellbeing in South Africa.
- Health Sciences