Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 280 - 281)



  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.

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