Vincenzina Caputo Earns USDA NIFA Grant to Research Consumer Acceptance of Gene-Edited Food

AFRE faculty member Vincenzina Caputo recently earned a prestigious USDA NIFA grant to look into consumer perceptions of gene-edited foods and products.

caputo_2019_janVincenzina Caputo has been awarded a three year, $498,476 grant to study consumer choice behavior and demand for gene-edited foods using a neuro-economics approach. The grant comes from Markets and Trade Research area of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Experts leading the project include Caputo, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE), Marco Palma of Texas A&M, and Jayson Lusk of Purdue University. 

Gene-Editing and Consumers

“Consumer aversion to so-called first generation genetically engineered food has slowed adoption in many countries and has even led to growing markets for non-GE food in the U.S.,” said Caputo. “New genetic and breeding techniques like gene-editing are emerging that have the potential to accomplish some of the same outcomes as first generation genetically engineered crops and animals, but in a manner that is potentially more acceptable to consumers.”

“However, the adoption of new food technologies is not only a function of what is technically and scientifically feasible — but what consumers and farmers want and will accept”, said Caputo.

Using Applied Economics and Neuroscience

To better understand the decision-making process for genetically engineered food, Caputo’s interdisciplinary team will analyze consumer behavioral response to alternative breeding techniques and gene-edited foods using both economic experiments and neuroscience technologies such as eye tracking, facial expression, and electroencephalography.

“Combining data from economic experiments with data from multiple neuroscience technologies hasn’t been done in this area of study. But it’s a way to more deeply understand the behavioral mechanisms driving the decision-making process for new food technology adoption, better than just using one branch of research alone” said Caputo.

“Dr. Caputo’s team is using a cutting-edge mix of methods from neuroscience and economics,” said AFRE professor Scott Swinton.  “As individual consumers choose foods to buy, the team will monitor their eye movement and brain activity. Then they will link that information with the information and economic factors that shape consumer choices. This research will make genuine contributions that benefit both America’s food and agriculture as well as the emerging scientific field of neuro-economics.”

This project ties into Caputo’s overall research career and goals of understanding consumer food choice behavior and changing demands for novel food products.

“I’m very excited to receive this grant and have this opportunity to do something new, timely, and important,” said Caputo.  “It was a competitive grant, and I think receiving it speaks to how important and interesting this work can be. It is also a testament to the superb training provided by my mentors Drs. Titus Awokuse, Scott Swinton, Bob Myers, and Rick Horan. I hope to have a fraction of this impact on my students.”

In addition to this work, Caputo advises three graduate students and serves as a mentor for their work. PhD student Valerie Kilders is also examining consumer choice behavior for food products from gene-edited animals. She looks at a new method of cow dehorning, which is an interesting question that links gene-editing with animal welfare perceptions of US consumers. Danielle Kaminski is exploring current events surrounding dairy labor, including consumer preferences and demand for dairy products bearing worker and animal welfare labels; as well as worker preferences for alternative compensation packages. Angelos Lagoudakis is testing whether alternative economic experiments produce different welfare estimates, which poses relevant implications for the field of applied economics where those methods are increasingly used.  

Learn more about Dr. Caputo and USDA NIFA grants.

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