Results showed that 62% of consumers were in favour of the enhanced mandatory labelling of GM soybean oil, and they were willing to pay for traceability codes, followed by allergen presence, and nutrient and compositional change.
China currently adopts mandatory labelling for 17 GM products including soybeans, corn, cotton, and tomato which only indicates its GM status. However, this merely differentiates GM foods from non-GM food products.
“They do not include enough of the benefit and risk information that consumers desire to know,” researchers from China and USA wrote in the journal Foods.
China is the largest consumer and importer of GM soybean, importing more than 95 million tons in 2017.
GM soybean oil is the most consumed household edible oil in China, and well as widely used among the food processing and catering industries.
However, many Chinese consumers oppose GM foods due to their concerns about food safety.
Having enhanced mandatory labelling could increase consumers’ support for GM foods so researchers sought to evaluate consumer willingness to pay (WTP) for enhanced mandatory labelling using a choice experiment approach.
According to the researchers, this is the first study on WTP for the mandatory labelling of GM foods in China.
A choice experiment (CE) approach was used which comprised of three labelling attributes (allergen presence labelling, nutrient and compositional change labelling, traceability codes) and payment.
Researchers surveyed 804 consumers at supermarkets and large-scale shopping malls from the Eastern (Jinan, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), Central (Changchun, Zhengzhou, Hefei, Wuchang) and Western (Lanzhou, Guiyang) regions in China.
Respondents were asked whether they were willing to pay for the mandatory enhanced labelling of GM soybean oil, and how much they were willing to pay.
Willing to pay
The survey results reported that about 67%, 58% and 57% of consumers in the Eastern, Central and Western regions respectively, were willing to pay for the enhanced mandatory labelling of GM soybean oil.
For those who are willing to pay, the average WTP is RMB 18.22 (US$2.80) for traceability codes, followed by RMB 17.50 (US$2.70) for allergen presence labelling. The WTP for nutrient and compositional change labelling is the smallest with a payment amount of RMB 8.17 (US$1.20).
“Traceability codes may help consumers know where the products come from, but it would not inform them of the potential risks and benefits,” researchers said.
“Allergen presence labelling and nutrient and compositional change labelling can better help consumers understand the potential risks and benefits of the GM foods.”
Regionally, Eastern consumers show a positive preference for all three attributes. Central consumers only show a positive preference for the traceability codes, while Western consumers show no preference.
Eastern consumers typically have a higher education level than those from the Central region, whose education level is in turn higher than that of consumers from the Western region. Well-educated consumers may be more concerned about GM foods, because they may be worried about the uncertainty of transgenic technology.
In addition, those in Eastern and Central cities tend to have higher per capita disposable income on average, compared to those in Western cities.
The results suggest that more than half of Chinese urban consumers were willing to pay more for the enhanced mandatory labelling of GM soybean oil, to receive more detailed information about the potential benefits and risks.
More research needed
The research does not conclude that an enhanced mandatory labelling program should be instituted.
“Rather, the findings provide guidance on how an enhanced mandatory labelling program should look like if such a program is warranted,” researchers said.
They recommend further research including calculating the additional costs, evaluating the benefits, and expanding this approach to other GM foods beyond soybean oil.
“Willingness to Pay for Enhanced Mandatory Labelling of Genetically Modified Soybean Oil: Evidence from a Choice Experiment in China”
Authors: Mingyang Zhang, et al.