Espacios. Vol. 35 (Nº 9) Año 2014. Pág. 18

Knowledge and customer behavior related to transgenic food: an exploratory study conducted with customers in the city of Ponta Grossa Pr.

Conhecimento e comportamento dos clientes no tocante aos alimentos transgênicos: um estudo exploratório realizado com clientes na cidade de Ponta Grossa Pr.

Nathalie Hamine PANZARINI1, Juliana Vitória Messias BITTENCOURT 2; Eloiza Aparecida de Avila MATOS 3

Recibido: 06/06/14 • Aprobado: 29/07/14


The GMO's, also named transgenic, developed from the technology of the recombinant DNA, and has a very important role in the improvement and advance of the productive process, due to a new perspective towards the problems related in agriculture. However, its usage in food industry gave rise to the current and controversial discussion concerning the risks and benefits to both customers and environment. So, the objective of the present paper was to verify the degree of knowledge and the purchase practice related to GMOs by the customers in the city of Ponta Grossa PR. For so, we used semi-structured questionnaires with 300 customers in the city of Ponta Grossa PR. It was observed that there is still a lack of knowledge concerning the insertion of GMO in food, as well as concerning the real health risks they cause. Then, it is very important to deeply develop the scientific research in this field, concerning the understanding on this matter.
Key-words: Genetically Modified food; Knowledge Degree; Customers.

Os OGMs, também chamados transgênicos, desenvolvido a partir da tecnologia do DNA recombinante, e tem um papel muito importante na melhoria e avanço do processo produtivo, devido a uma nova perspectiva para os problemas relacionados à agricultura. No entanto, seu uso na indústria de alimentos deu origem à atual discussão e polêmica sobre os riscos e benefícios para os clientes e meio ambiente. Assim, o objetivo do presente trabalho foi verificar o grau de conhecimento e da prática de compra relacionadas aos OGM por parte dos clientes na cidade de Ponta Grossa PR. Para tanto, foram utilizados questionários semi-estruturados com 300 clientes na cidade de Ponta Grossa PR. Observou-se que ainda há uma falta de conhecimento sobre a inserção de OGM nos alimentos, bem como sobre os riscos reais de saúde que causam. Então, é muito importante desenvolver profundamente a investigação científica neste campo, a respeito da compreensão sobre o assunto.
Palavras-chave: alimentos geneticamente modificados; Grau de conhecimento; Clientes.

1. Introduction

The Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), also called transgenic, can be seen as a central point in the discussions that gave rise to the interest of the society towards the technological innovation in the field of biotechnology (Furnival and Pinheiro, 2008).

The transgenic organisms are derived from the recombinant DNA technology, created in 1973, which allows the transfer of genetic material intra and inter species, i.e., they are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). This technology is aimed towards the incorporation of new characteristics in host organisms, as to make the plant more suitable to resist to toxics and/or produce toxins capable of destroying harmful weed or other living beings that may feed on the plant. Though the GMO and "transgenic" don't have, conceptually, equal meaning, they are both obtained from the same recombinant DNA technology. Most bibliography on this matter uses these terms of synonyms; in this study, transgenic and GMO were also treated as synonyms. (Camara, 2012).

In the agro industrial field of research, the GMO are considered important to the improvement and advance of the productive process (Ribeiro and Marin, 2012).

The recombinant DNA technology to the obtainment of GMOs can be used in many fields of human activity, including the agriculture. Its main purposes are to optimize the quantities of some nutrients essential to human and animal health, as well as to applications such as resistance to insects as well as to herbicides. Among the main advantages are the increase in productivity and improvement in food quality, concerning low levels of toxics contamination and micro toxins, as well as improvement in the nutritional composition (Vercesi, 2009).

The advances in biotechnology bring a new vision on the solution of problems related to agriculture, allowing the creation of benefits to a wide range of food products, through the use of bacteria, enzymes, yeast and other micro GMO.

On the other hand, it gives rise it discussions on the possible risks concerning human and animal health, and ecology (Vercesi, 2009; Souza and Hossne, 2010).

Although there is an importance in developing better information practices on the exact risks and benefits of GM food, that doesn't mean trust from the public. It becomes necessary to involve the customers into the debate on this technological innovation and its commercialization, diminishing the existent gap between science and society (Frewer, 2004).

GMO biosecurity is provided by several international treaties, highlighting the Convention of Bio Diversity (CBD), from 1992. Through this convention it was signed, back in 2000, the International Biosecurity Protocol, also called the Cartagena Protocol, with the following objectives: to assure an adequate level of protection to the transfer, manipulation and usage of GMO, derived from modern biotechnology, which can present adverse effects to the conservation and sustainable usage of the bio diversity, also considering the risks to human health (Souza and Hossne, 2010).

In Brazil, the Law of Biosecurity no 8.974, from 1995, creates within the Department of Science and Technology the technical division CTNBio (Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança) – National Technical Commission on Biosecurity, responsible for the control of recombinant DNA activities within the country boundaries. (Brasil, 2003).

Through the Law of Biosecurity, the customers must be informed on the presence of GMOs in the products they purchase. Notwithstanding, solely informing the presence of such organisms is not enough to assure the conscious consumption. The customers must also be capable of understand that information. (Mendonça, 2012).

The lack of information concerning the control and evaluation mechanisms of risks, which assure the security of the GMO derived products, causes a great discussion concerning the acceptance of the GM food products by the customers in most countries. (Sesab, 2001).

The Customer Legal Code assures the basic right to access information, mainly on the origin of the products, their relevant characteristics, assuring the security in their freedom of choice concerning the products they purchase (Peres, 2001).            

These context presents a customer who is positioned as a receptive agent to the information related to the food products he is going to purchase. The companies which desire to attend him must pay attention to the task of observing this information in a fast and accessible way. So, the communication strategy is a decisive factor to the success and acceptance of the offered product. Communication is the biggest and most powerful agreement between the several stakeholders that make part of a system, as more and more the food consumption is associated to the quantity and quality of information present on the customers' perception, making people to purchase and consume not exclusively by real necessity, but through values and identification. (Rodrigues and Rodrigues, 2002).  

The labeling is essential to food products, once it works as an information support between company and customer (Ribeiro and Marin, 2012). It allows that the customers buy taking into consideration their preferences. The information and product differentiation highlight the power of choice, and satisfaction of needs of customers. Besides, an adequate labeling allows the traceability of a given product, assuring a more effective control (bio vigilance), in cases of food contamination (Messias, 2009, Camara,, 2013).

So, the objective of this paper was to verify the degree of familiarity (knowledge) of customers and their purchase practices concerning transgenic food in the city of Ponta Grossa PR, Brazil.

2. Materials and Methods

For the obtainment of data, a questionnaire of open and closed questions was used. The open questions, free and not limited, did not influence the answers, allowing a wider and free discussion, due to the fact that they offer explanations and commentaries, while the closed questions, limited or presenting fixed alternatives have easy application, also easy and fast to answer, and present a bigger accuracy.

This questionnaire involved the opinion of customers in the city of Ponta Grossa PR, concerning the commercialization and labeling of such products.   

First, the sample size was determined for the study with a level of confidence of 95% (corresponding value in the table = 1.96), with an acceptable error of 4% and variance of 0.5. According to the formula:


n = sample size;

z = deviation found in the table of normal distribution, corresponding to the chosen level of confidence;

o=  variance;

d = margin of error determined by the researcher.

Then, the found value in the application of the formula is as follows:

From the 600 online distributed questionnaires (Google Docs), we had the return

of 425 answered questionnaires. Then, we decided to perform a pilot test. In the unlimited populations one must perform a pilot test with a random sample of at least 31 individuals (FontelleS, 2010). The research determined a confidence level of 95% and estimated an error of 1.15. The pilot, specifically performed for this research, considering the participants mean of ages, indicated a standard deviation of 10.14.    

z = 1,96.

σ = 10,14

e = 1,15

n = [1.96 . 10.14/1.15]2 = [1.,282]2 = 298.6, aproximately  300. This questionnaire is composed by four sections, as follows:

  • Section I – General questions aiming to gather information from the questioned individuals;
  •  Section II – questions concerning the understanding (knowledge) about the GM components in food products;
  • Section III – Description of the main health risks present in the consumption of such kind of food;
  • Section IV – Find out information and understanding concerning the labels of GM food products.

3. Results

The questionnaire was sent to 300 customers in the city of Ponta Grossa PR. The majority of the participants are females (61.7%). Concerning the ages, the mean is 25 years old.

Concerning the level of education, 5.3% have the basic education; 5.7% have some kind of technical education; 33.3% High School; 41.7% superior education; 14% post-graduates. In this research, we could observe that 61.7% have a familiar income above R$2.488,00, with 29.3% with an income between R$1,244,00 and R$2,488,00; only 9% have an income up to R$1,244,00.  

The customers were questioned on their knowledge concerning the transgenic products.

Concerning the transgenic products commercialized in Brazil, the most cited culture among the answers was the soy, present in 92.33% of the answers; followed by the corn, with 84.33%; canola with 40.7%; cotton, with 35%; tomato, with 28%; beet, with 19%, and pumpkin with 7%. However, only 3% of the interviewed correctly answered to the permitted cultures for cultivation in Brazil, which, according to the ISAAA (2013), are: corn, soy and cotton.

The majority of the interviewed (54%) affirm to know the symbol which is present in the label of a transgenic product. From that percentage, 49% described correctly as provided by the Ordinance no 2658, from December 22nd, 2003; and the Decree no 4680, from April 24th, 2003. These laws describe that the symbol must be present on the main label of the packing, detached and with good color contrast, so that it assures the maximum visibility. The triangle must be equilateral, obeying to the following proportions: edges and T letter: 100% black; internal part: 100% yellow, as shown in figure I:

Fig. 1 .Graphical signal to be printed in polychrome for labels of products that present GM components.   
Source: Department of Justice, 2003.

It is pertinent to make a connection between the results and the understanding about what is a transgenic product; in this matter, 69% of the questioned individuals assert that they know what is a transgenic, but only 54% know how they are presented in the labeling.

When questioned concerning the source of knowledge on the transgenic, 58% obtained that information from the label; 30% from media; 9% by other means, such as university, school, web and magazines; 3% had never seen the symbol before the research.

The opinion of the questioned individuals concerning the efficacy of the labeling in illustrating the transgenic product, 59% believe it is not efficient.

When questioned about what could happen to human health when eating transgenic food, 37.7% couldn't answer; 28% believe it to be safe; 34.3% believe such kind of food product may offer health risks. Among the mentioned diseases associated with it, are cancer, allergy, alterations in metabolism, intoxication, mutation and non-diagnosed diseases.

When questioned on whether they are favorable or not to the consumption of transgenic products, little difference were detected in the answers and variables. From the total inquired individuals, 35% are favorable; 36% are not favorable; and to 29% are indifferent. However, when questioned if they could choose, the majority (58%) answered they would not consume such kind of food. 

4. Discussion

When analyzing the results, it was observed that 69% answered that they knew or had already heard about the matter. A similar result was found by Calvasina et. al (2004), where, from the 60 inquired individuals, 63.3% answered that they knew what is a transgenic food product, while 36.7% didn't.

In Brazil, the article 40 from the Law of National Biosecurity (11.105/05), determines the labeling of transgenic food according to the Decree no. 4680/03. This Decree determines that, all food products or food components, with the presence of GMO above 1% of the product final composition, must be labeled with the icon. The labeling assures to the customer the right to the information and choice at the moment of purchase.

Only 54% of the inquired individuals knew the symbol which appears at the labeling of GMOs in food products. A different result was found from a study by Fulnival and Pinheiro (2009), where 85% of the inquired individuals had already heard about the transgenic, though only 15% of them previously recognized the transgenic signal in the label.

Concerning the source of knowledge on the transgenic, the results of the present research showed a similar result to that of a study by Fulnival and Pinheiro (2008), where the inquired groups demonstrated a great divulgation in media concerning news related to the theme, showing a greater familiarity, at least, with the relation existent between transgenic and food products. Even so, the participants observed that there is no clear explanation in the media on what is a transgenic.

The data from a research of Takahashi et. al. (2008), showed that his interviewed had the media as the main source of information on the transgenic. None of the inquired individuals made a direct reference to the labels, what, in a certain way, was already expected, once it is not common that such information be present in the labels. The law which determines the labeling of transgenic food product may help so that people be aware they are consuming such kind of products, be it effectively respected.

Most of the customers read the labeling only for verifying the expiration date of the products, what shows a lack of interest in examine the composition of what is going to be consumed. It can be observed a lack of information concerning the real advantages and disadvantages of the GM products by the most part of customers. (Calvasina, et. al., 2004).

To 59% of the interviewed, the labeling is not efficient. According to Funival and Pinheiro (2009), in Brazil, the resilience to the labeling of GMO presence in food products by the industry is justifiable. According to Dr. Paulo Nicolellis Junior, Director of the Associação Brasileira das Indústrias da Alimentação (ABIA), (Brazilian Association of Food Industries), cited by the author, "the industry does not want to associate its name to a sign from something that may be potentially dangerous". The labeling can also be seen as a way to create a sense of awareness in the customer, interfering in his buying choices.

 Most customers didn't know the potential risks present in the transgenic technology. Such assertive is proved by Calvasina et. al (2004), who observed in his research that most of his researched individuals had no understanding about the risks of transgenic consumption to human health, and among the cited diseases associated with it are: digestive diseases, blood diseases, loss of immunity, chemical alteration and in metabolism, genetic diseases, viruses and heart diseases. 

Consumers generally express their concerns on food safety, yet relatively only a few of them appear to be changing their food buying and consumption behaviors in view of their concerns (Ergönül,2013) .Concerning the question whether they are favorable or not to the consumption of transgenic food products, the results appeared similar to that observed in a study by Funival and Pinheiro (2008), where the majority of the questioned individuals (75%) said they rather consume non-transgenic food, and asserted their preoccupation with the effects that these products may cause to human health, environment and the future. Such results oppose to what was found by Calvasina et. al (2004)  , where 51.7% answered they did not care in eating transgenic food.

In a research performed by Allain (2009), when the person was questioned if they could choose between a transgenic food and a non-transgenic, between 70-80% would choose non-transgenic, and between 10-15% would choose transgenic food. Besides, 70-80% answered that the transgenic should be prohibited, and 10-20% answered they should be widely liberated.

5. Conclusion

A complex panorama of negotiations, controversies, conflicts and political/economic interests demand the development of new social requirements and the creation of laws of regulation, as well as the active participation of the society in the issues concerning the GMOs. Then, the transfer of this technology from labs to the plantation fields and their insertion in the daily human diet of society was noticed by all the components of the food supply chain.

The GMOs compose an issue of general interest, and the awareness (knowledge), on the products that contain such technology appears to have increased in the last 10 years, though they are still insufficient to the conscious consumption.

An important observed result from this study is the lack of knowledge from the public concerning the insertion of the transgenic technology in the food products, as well as their risks and benefits, but, primarily, its labeling, because the labels of food products often give rise to doubts, disbelief and dissatisfaction towards the information presented, as well as dissatisfaction concerning the effects of the usage of the transgenic technology in both the human health and the environment.  

Concerning the labeling of food products, the Brazilian law clearly determines the right to access to information, right of choice by the customers, in a way very similar to the European position in the matter. However, much has yet to be done to improve the strategies of supervision concerning the fulfillment of the referred laws.

In the matter of the development of knowledge concerning the GMOs, it is necessary to analyze each case carefully, observing the results in a medium to long term. For that, it is important the increase in the development of researches in this field of study, both in the knowledge on the issue and on the analytical methods for the detection of GMOs in food products, directed towards a better control and efficacy of its labeling. 


To the "Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico" (CNPq), National Counsel for the Scientific and Technological Development, for the financial support.


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1 Federal University of Technology, in Paraná, Post-graduation Program in Production Engineering, Campus Ponta Grossa PR, Brazil. Corresponding author. E-mail:
2 Federal University of Technology, in Paraná, Post-graduation Program in Production Engineering, Campus Ponta Grossa PR, Brazil
3 Federal University of Technology, in Paraná, Post-graduation Program in Production Engineering, Campus Ponta Grossa PR, Brazil

Vol. 35 (Nº 9) Año 2014

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