A nation-wide survey conducted by Central Queensland University PhD student Janet Norton found strong resistance to genetically altered food among Australian consumers, particularly women.
In a paper to be presented to this week's Australian Sociological Association annual conference here, Ms Norton and two other academics found an overwhelming demand clear labelling of genetically engineered food.
Co-author of Public Acceptance of Genetically-Engineered Foods, Professor Geoffrey Lawrence, said the survey showed Australia's food industry could be on wrong path.
"Food manufacturing representatives are saying how important it is to go down the biotechnological path," he said.
"At the same time, consumer groups are saying 'let's be very, very careful about this'."
The survey measured consumers' feelings about blue roses, coloured by a cornflower gene, genetically engineered bruise-resistant tomatoes, pigs with a human growth sequence and the insect repelling bacillus thuringensis (Bt) gene introduced to sheep and wheat.
"This survey found consumers would accept products that assisted animal welfare or were neutral, like the blue rose, but when it came to ingesting food, they became very coy," he said.
"What we find is that the more people learn about these products, the less they support them."
Prof Lawrence said the survey findings pointed to a tension between food producers' desire for economically-produced foods with a longer shelf life and consumers' demands for "clean and green" produce.
"We're saying to scientists, 'you're doing this work in the laboratory with millions of dollars of public and private money without thinking about public acceptance'," he said.
Prof Lawrence said the Australian food industry did not seem to be coming to grips with the yawning gap between what consumers wanted and what scientists were intent on producing.
"Australia could be left with food that no other nation will want by going down the biotechnological path," he said.
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Last Updated on 5/22/99
By Karen Lutz