Science vs. Consumer Sovereignty in Food

This from a forthcoming book chapter by Wally Huffman and Jill McCluskey:

The scientific consensus is that first-generation GM foods are equivalent to their conventional counterparts. However, on average, consumers want a discount in order to choose first-generation GM products over conventional products. Thus, the public’s perception of risks, rather than scientifically proven risks, that directly affect markets. This brings up the issue of scientific versus consumer sovereignty (Roberts, 1999). Although the scientific consensus is that GM foods are completely safe for consumption aside from potential allergens, it may still be the case that a majority of the population in a given country prefers to avoid GM foods. We find that information provision affect valuation and the source of information matters.

When people are informed about the science of biotechnology, they can become more accepting of GMOs in food.  Yet, this is hardly the only (or even the most persuasive) information confronting the food consumer.

Source: Huffman, W.E. and J.J. McCluskey. “Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods.” In P.W.B. Philips, S. Smyth and D. Castle, eds., Handbook on Agriculture, Biotechnology and Development. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, forthcoming.