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Demand for genetically modified food : theory and empirical findings

Kaye-Blake, William H.
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::1402 Applied Economics , ANZSRC::150501 Consumer-Oriented Product or Service Development
As economies develop, novel products are created and markets for these products arise. Genetically modified food (GMF) is an example of such a novel product and provides economists with the opportunity to investigate an infant market. Of particular interest with GMF is the impact of consumer reactions on the market. The response of consumers to GMF and their willingness to pay for it has emerged as an important factor in the development of this technology. This research investigates these consumer responses. Prior research suggests that two aspects of consumer behaviour may be relevant for the GMF market. First, consumers may react differently to different types of GMF, so that some products are potentially more economically viable. Secondly, some consumers appear to prefer not having GMF at all. Consumer behaviour is often framed according to neoclassical economic theory. Consumer preferences over goods and the attributes of those goods are generally held to have certain properties. The aspects of consumers' reactions to GMF noted above, however, may be in conflict with two properties of preferences in neoclassical theory. First, preferences over food attributes are not separable, but may interact with each other. Secondly, some consumers may have preferences regarding GMF that are not continuous. As a result, aggregate impacts of introducing GMF may be difficult to measure, which raises a third issue for investigation, aggregation. Finally, an alternative model of consumer behaviour is bounded rationality, which theorises that choices may be discontinuous as a result of specific protocols. It also suggests that consumers seek to make good-enough choices, rather than attempting to maximise their satisfaction. Thus, optimisation or maximisation is the fourth issue considered in this thesis. In order to investigate these properties of consumers' preferences, a choice experiment survey was developed. The strength of a choice experiment for examining these issues is its focus on the impact of each product attribute on a respondent's choices. Thus, it may be possible to identify potentially discontinuous choice patterns and to identify choices affected by interactions between GM technology and other food attributes. Results from a neoclassical analysis of the survey data suggest that some consumers consider the type of benefit created with GM technology in making their choices. In addition, one-quarter to one-half of respondents may have had discontinuous preferences with respect to GMF. Reactions to GMF appear related to respondents' attitudes, but not to socio-economic or demographic descriptors. As a result, aggregate measures of the impact of GMF may not fully account for consumers' responses. A boundedly rational model also has reasonable goodness of fit, and may provide a different perspective on consumer behaviour. It is hoped that the results of this research provide a better understanding of consumer behaviour regarding GMF and, by extension, of the process of consumer adoption of novel products. It is further hoped that this attempt to incorporate choice protocols into discrete choice analysis will provide a useful example for further research.