Examination of Witness (Questions 280
WEDNESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2002
280. To take the easy example of tomato paste,
which was available for quite a significant time in the supermarket
and it appeared to have a wide degree of consumer acceptance,
one wonders whether the reaction that took place was representative
of genuine consumers or representative of media and pressure group
concern which led to supermarkets seeking to differentiate themselves?
(Professor Bainbridge) I believe the public opinion
must have been overridingly in favour of withdrawing the GM because
all of the supermarkets did it and they are very, very big businesses
and they are very, very aware of their public, so they would not
have made those decisions without a lot of informed information.
I have not actually seen that information and I certainly do not
have any information about how the withdrawal of GM from shelves
has changed public opinion. There was one small distributor of
food that had very early on a very deliberate policy of non-GM
and their market share rose. Their profitability declined fairly
rapidly when it became clear that sourcing non-GM ingredients
was very expensive, not only did their range decrease but their
price increased and they lost their share of the market. They
fairly quietly dropped part of their marketing campaign. Which
supermarket takes the lead I would not like to hazard a guess.
281. I am suggesting that as a possible fruitful
line of research. One of the issues we had earlier on was about
consumer acceptance of change. We do have some models to work
on and what happened in that instance, what the real experience
was and actually what the reality is behind the hype. As I said,
not all supermarket chains behave precisely the same. They may
have appeared to on the passing glance of media coverage but if
you look at the realities of purchasing that is not so. Not all
of the them have sought to be GM free for example. It would be
worth looking at whether there is actually genuine competitive
advantage gained by taking a particular stance or not.
(Professor Bainbridge) There is a great deal of social
science research going on in terms of surveys, how to engage with
the public, how to engage in debate on scientific issues, etc,
but that is not my field per se, I am not a social scientist
or a market researcher. I would commend if that is not being funded
that the government would fund something like this because it
would help us as scientists know how to deal with the public interface
and to have the best chance to ensure that the money that is spent
on developing the science is not wasted, because if the science
cannot then be applied and utilised it is effectively not such
good value for the return on the original investment in the science.
Chairman: Professor Bainbridge, thank you very
much for that. Just as you have your "chicken in the bottle",
I commend to you Poire William, which you will know that, of course,
is the pear grown in the bottle. Thank you very much for coming.
Your paper was very stimulating and your conversation was even
more stimulating. We are very grateful to you. Thank you.