Consumers were willing to spend more money for genetically modified potato products when they received educational material about the health benefits of the modification, according to a study conducted at Iowa State University.
For the study, researchers examined the participants’ willingness to pay more for genetically modified potato products (5-pound bag of potatoes, potato chips, and frozen French fries) when informed that the genetically modified versions reduce the formation of acrylamide.
Acrylamide has been linked with formation of cancer in animals and is a possible carcinogen in humans. The chemical occurs naturally in starchy foods that are cooked or fried at high temperatures, such as potatoes, roasted nuts and coffee beans, and bread crusts. French fries and potato chips are the biggest source of acrylamide consumption in the U.S.
About 300 consumers were recruited from metropolitan areas to participate in the research. Three perspectives about acrylamide and the biotechnology used to reduce its formation in potato products were prepared for the study: the scientific perspective on health risks of acrylamide exposure, an environmental group’s negative perspective on genetically modified ingredients, and a potato industry perspective on using biotechnology to significantly reduce acrylamide formation in its processed potato products.
The researchers then created “information treatments” that consisted of any one of the three perspectives and also any two of them. Those treatments were randomly distributed to participants to gauge the effects of the different types of information.
Researcher and economist Wallace Huffman, PhD, the Charles F. Curtiss distinguished professor in agriculture and life sciences in the department of economics at Iowa State, says that all types of information had “significant effects on consumers’ willingness to pay for experimental potatoes and potato products.”
According to Dr. Huffman, the scientific information was the most influential single perspective, but a combination of that perspective and the industry perspective had the largest effect on the participants’ willingness to pay more for the product. Participants were less willing to pay more when the environmental group’s perspective was combined with either the industry or the scientific perspective, he says.
The FDA issued draft guidance for industry in 2013 about acrylamide, noting in the report that plant breeders are investigating the development of new potato varieties through conventional breeding and biotechnology that would be less likely to produce acrylamide. The report gave guidance on steps involved in handling, processing, and cooking potatoes that may help reduce the chemical.
Holliman is a veteran journalist with extensive experience covering a variety of industries. Reach her at [email protected].