Consumer Attitude of Risk and Benefits toward Genetically Modified (GM) Foods in South Korea: Implications for Food Policy

Renee B. Kim


With highly negative publicity, GM food marketing in South Korea has become a major challenge for potential marketers who are interested in entering the South Korean market. Several consumer groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) in South Korea initiated anti-GM food campaigns. South Korean consumers are reported to be more concerned about potential risk associated with GM food compared to counterpart consumers in the U.S and Europe (KFDA, 2009). Many South Korean food processors and marketers are responding to this consumer concern by ignoring the labeling requirement of GM contents in their products. There is apparent lack of coordination in the South Korean food supply chain regarding GM food management with South Korean consumers’ negative attitude toward GM foods and South Korean food suppliers’ avoidance of GM food labeling. Despite the apparent benefits of GM food, GM food may not have sufficient market value in the market if consumers have distrust and insecurity toward such product. This paper develops a quantitative model which identifies major determinants of South Korean consumers’ choice behavior for GM foods. The proposed model elicit constructs which form South Korean consumers’ attitude which in turn affect their willingness to purchase GM foods. Our study developed a socio-cognitive model of South Korean consumers’ behavior, using Fishbein’s framework, which has two attitudinal constructs (Perceived Benefits and Perceived Risk) and one construct that capture effect of individual respondent’s socioeconomic variance (Socio-Economic Status (SES). Consumers’ beliefs and attitudes regarding the risks and benefits of GM foods and their individual socio-demographic status are hypothesized to be linked to consumers’ choice behavior of GM foods. A sample of 360 consumers was drawn from a survey study in the capital city, Seoul. Results reveal that consumers’ Socio-Economic Status (SES) and their Perceived Benefits associated GM food were found to be strong indicators of consumers’ GM food purchase intention. This implies that consumer’s background and diversity in South Korean demographic may have significant effect on their purchase intention for GM food. This suggests that further extensive study on South Korean consumer market need to be conducted in order to fully understand the difference among various South Korean consumer market segments in terms of how they respond to GM food issues. Comprehensive market segmentation on South Korean consumer market should be done in terms of their GM risk appetite, GM food knowledge, information search behavior and food consumption pattern. Our results show that favorable attributes of GM food such as medical benefits and nutritional enhancement were found to have significant influence on consumers’ attitude toward GM food positively. Results show potentials for second generation GM food in South Korea, if specific of consumer benefits can be effectively developed and promoted to South Korean consumers. Regarding Perceived Risk of GM food, uncertainty/ lack of understanding on GM food and potential environmental hazard of GM food were found to affect consumers’ attitude toward GM food negatively. Educating consumers about GM food may be a viable strategy to mitigate their concerns about unknown health risks and adverse environmental effects and the communication of scientific uncertainty is critical to improving consumers’ negative attitude toward GM foods.



Genetically Modified (GM) food commercialization; GM Labeling policy; South Korea; and Risk/Benefits of GM foods

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Print ISSN: 1392-2785
Online ISSN: 2029-5839