Research exposes “myth” that GM pasture will deter tourists



A University of Otago survey of tourists concludes that it is highly unlikely that the introduction of genetically-modified drought-tolerant pasture to New Zealand would have long-term adverse effects on this country’s ‘clean green’ image overseas.

The survey involved interviews with 515 first-time overseas visitors (261 males and 254 females, with ages ranging from 20 to over 70) at Auckland International Airport.

In the research, led by University of Otago Marketing Department Associate Professor John Knight, visitors were asked in the first instance questions relative to a country that they felt was most similar to New Zealand, in order to lessen visitors’ natural inclination to “be nice to their host country.”

They were asked to rate on a 6-point scale whether or not presence of GM rye grass, nuclear power, or factory farming in that country would deter them from re-visiting it. Only three visitors (0.6%) “definitely agreed” that GM crops in that country would put them off re-visiting this “destination most similar to New Zealand” in future, whereas 423 visitors (90%) “definitely, somewhat or slightly” disagreed that GM status would put them off visiting again.

When a similar question was asked regarding introduction of GM pasture into NZ, only 7 (1.9%) “definitely agreed” this would stop them visiting in future. A further 5.9% “somewhat” or “slightly” agreed this would stop them visiting.

However, a total of 92.2% “definitely, somewhat or slightly” agreed that introduction of GM pasture would not change their intention to visit New Zealand in future.

“Whatever the issues regarding whether or not to introduce GM pasture, it seems safe to conclude that potential damage to our clean green image in the eyes of overseas visitors planning to come here should not be a factor,” Associate Professor Knight says.

Many of those surveyed identified New Zealand with countries such as Australia and Canada, ironically where GM-cropping is already established. The countries which visitors rated as most similar to New Zealand were Australia, Canada, Switzerland, UK, and Finland, in that order. All of these, except Australia, in fact generate nuclear power.

Associate Professor Knight says the sample of 515 visitors gives “a pretty clear indication that GM pasture would not matter to tourists when making decisions about where to travel”.

This latest research follows Associate Professor Knight’s face-to-face research on “gatekeepers” in the food distribution channels in Europe, China and India.

These studies showed that people influential in food distribution in other countries did not rate whether or not a country grows GM crops as a relevant consideration when sourcing food for their consumers to choose from.
“It is an unsupported myth that GM crops in New Zealand (or even nuclear power, for that matter) would damage our clean green image in export markets”, he says.

These findings from both the new research on tourists and the separate research on the “gatekeepers” have just been collectively published in a report entitled: “New Zealand’s Clean Green Image: Will GM Plants Damage It?”The report is available from the Marketing Department of the University of Otago.