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Interact J Med Res. 2016 Aug 29;5(3):e23. doi: 10.2196/ijmr.5850.

Japanese Consumer Perceptions of Genetically Modified Food: Findings From an International Comparative Study.

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1
Nara Medical University, Department of Public Health, Health Management and Policy, Nara, Japan.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Reports of food-related incidents, such as cows infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (2001) and the Fukushima nuclear accident (2011), engendered significant fear among Japanese consumers and led to multiple farmer suicides, even when no actual health damage occurred. The growing availability of genetically modified (GM) food is occurring against this backdrop of concern about food safety. Consumers need information to assess risk and make informed purchasing decisions. However, we lack a clear picture of Japanese consumer perceptions of GM food.

OBJECTIVE:

This study aims to understand Japanese consumer perceptions of GM food for risk communication. Consumer perceptions of GM food were compared among 4 nations.

METHODS:

A Web-based survey was conducted in Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Participants were asked about demographics, fear of health hazards, resistance to GM and breeding-improved products, perception of GM technology and products, and willingness to pay. Multiple linear regression analyses were conducted, as were t tests on dichotomous variables, and 1-way analysis of variance and post hoc tests.

RESULTS:

Of 1812 individuals who agreed to participate, 1705 (94%) responded: 457 from Japan and 416 each from France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The male/female and age group ratios were all about even. Some resistance to GM food was seen in all countries in this study. France showed the strongest resistance (P<.001), followed by Japan, which had stronger resistance than the United States and the United Kingdom (P<.001). Overall, females, people in their 60s and older, and those without higher education showed the greatest resistance to GM food. Japan showed stronger fear of food hazards than other nations (P<.001, odds ratio=2.408, CI: 1.614-3.594); Japanese and French respondents showed the strongest fear of hazards from GM food (P<.001). Regarding perceptions of GM technology and products, consumers in nations other than Japan would accept GM food if it were appropriately explained, they were provided with scientific data supporting its safety, and they understood that all food carries some risk. However, Japanese consumers tended to accept GM technology but rejected its application to food (P<.001). Of those willing to purchase GM food, consumers in Japan required a discount of 30% compared with about 20% in other nations.

CONCLUSION:

All consumers in our study showed resistance to GM food. Although no health hazards are known, respondents in Japan and France strongly recognized GM food as a health risk. Price discounts of 30% and GM technology may be communication cues to start discussions about GM food among Japanese consumers. Although education-only risk communication generally is not effective, such an approach may work in Japan to help consumers better understand GM technology and, eventually, GM food. The gap between accepting GM technology and rejecting its application to food should be explored further.

KEYWORDS:

Japan; genetically modified food; health; perception; risk

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