Introduction

Since consumers are understood to have the final say on which food products succeed in the market, this section of the research looked at their willingness to purchase chickens fed HAP corn.  HAP corn was presented in two versions, one GM and the other non-GM.  These two were additionally compared to consumer pruchase likelihood for chickens fed other feeds, including the popular BT corn.  Information was also collected on consumer knowledge and concern regarding phosphorus pollution and GM foods.

Methods

A mailing list was purchased from USAData containing 1500 people in the states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.  The final survey design allowed for investigating consumer willingness to purchase chickens fed GM HAP or non-GM HAP corn, as well as fed conventional (non-GM) corn, Bt corn, and Roundup Ready corn.  Since we expected knowledge of these feeds and phosphorous pollution to be limited, we included a description sheet for each in the mailing.  Conjoint analysis was used in the construction of the survey questions.

Next, the mailing list was divided into three strata of 500 each, with the first representing locations where phosphorus pollution should be the highest and the other two progressively further away.  Each of these parts was further constructed to be half male and half female as both of these factors were hypothesized to be important in willingness to purchase.  After accounting for undeliverable surveys, the total response was 585 of 1456, or 40%.  This was believed to be a large response rate, especially given the potential complexity of the topic for many consumers.

Analysis of survey data was conducted using a Tobit regression model, including quadratic and two-way interaction terms, and corrected for heteroskedasticity.  The base model included feed types and prices.  Given the large number of possible demographic and other characteristics of the respondents, a modeling process was constructed that looked in turn at interactions with gender, age, income, education level, location (strata 1, 2 or 3), race and having children under 18 present in the household.  Categories found to be significant were added to the base model.  The results of all these tests were used to construct a final model.

Findings

Results showed that consumers have serious concerns about phosphorus pollution and may be willing to help the issue by purchasing chickens fed HAP corn.  Certain segments of consumers did have greater interest.  The most interesting demographic finding was an interaction of age with feed type.  Interest in chicken fed conventional feed decreased steadily with age from being the most popular at age 20 to least desired at age 80.  Interest in HAP corn products increased steadily with age so that by age 45, non-GM HAP corn had the greatest likelihood of purchase.

In all situations, likelihood to purchase chickens fed GM HAP was essentially parallel to non-GM HAP corn, but lower.  Thus, given a choice between the two, consumers will clearly select chickens fed non-GM HAP.  This is consistent with previous studies showing consumer reluctance to purchase GM versions of food products, while extending the finding into an area where the product has an environmental benefit.  This lower acceptance of GM foods may be due to the perception of a large percentage of the respondents that GM foods can lead to long term health problems.  For such individuals, these concerns can outweigh potential environmental benefits.

A larger issue with regard to the GM version however may be the lack of knowledge regarding the technology and the extent of its use in the food system.  Almost 66% of the consumers reported little or no knowledge of GM foods.  Ignorance could therefore be another main cause of consumer distrust of GM foods and reduced purchase likelihood.  An increase in consumer knowledge of GM foods or a move towards labeling of such products may significantly alter results.  The study shows that a large number of consumers read product labels.  GM labeling may affect consumer purchasing decisions and is an avenue for additional investigation.

Price, as expected, was another key factor in purchasing decisions.  Price was found to interact with gender, race and education level with the findings that, in general, females, African-Americans, and those with some college education are more sensitive to price changes.  Also, as would be suggested by consumer theory, income had a positive effect on the likelihood of purchasing chicken.  Interestingly, however, there were no interactions between type of feed and price.  This suggested consumer purchasing decisions adjusted with price changes in a similar fashion for each feed type.

 While acknowledging some of the concerns above, it seemed reasonable to conclude that both non-GM HAP and GM HAP would be accepted by consumers although there may be a need to educate younger consumers.  The former would clearly have an advantage in the marketplace, at least in the absence of a stronger marketing and educational campaign for the GM version.

Implications

Consumers should benefit from this research.  Results give an indication of what some of their concerns are, what sorts of information they would like, and an idea of how they may want to help environmental issues through their food purchases.  Products matching consumer demand increase their utility.  Individuals who enjoy fishing and the waterways will also benefit, with increased tourism aiding local economies as well.