Food Safety Concerns Do Not Include Biotechnology, According to IFIC Survey

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Public less wary of animal biotechnology.

Consumer familiarity and overall impression of food biotechnology remains little changed from a year ago in the United States, amidst major concern over food safety. According to a survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), there was little change in the American public’s perception of food biotechnology, and those who have an opinion are twice as likely to have favorable-as opposed to unfavorable- impressions.

“The public’s attitudes about food biotechnology remained constant despite a year of tremendous media attention on food concerns” said IFIC President and CEO David Schmidt. The national survey represents the 12th time IFIC has commissioned a survey on public attitudes about food biotechnology since 1997.

  • Confidence in U.S. Food Supply

Overall confidence in the food supply remained at a high level with 69 percent of Americans indicating they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in the food supply compared to 72 percent last year. However, the number of Americans selecting “very confident” decreased from 21 percent in 2006 to 15 percent this year.

A sizeable number of Americans (25 percent) cited no particular food safety concern. Of the three-quarters of respondents who listed a specific food safety concern, disease and contamination topped the list at 38 percent; however, the biggest increase was in the “source” category, where concern about country of origin caused this category to rise from 6 percent of those citing a specific concern with the food supply in 2006 to 20 percent this year. Handling and preparation decreased as a food safety concern, cited by 26 percent of those citing a specific concern this year, dropping nine percent from last year’s survey.

  • Animal Biotechnology

While the public’s overall favorable impression of plant biotechnology remained little changed in the past year, favorable impressions of animal biotechnology increased from 19 percent in 2006 to 24 percent this year. Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) said they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to buy meat, milk and eggs from cloned animals if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined they were safe. When the phrase “from cloned animals” was replaced with “from animals enhanced through genetic engineering” the number of Americans who were “very” or “somewhat” likely to buy these food products jumped to 61 percent. Both of these figures show an increase from the 2006 survey.

Increased awareness of potential positive impacts of animal biotechnology continues to correlate with increased support among consumers. Two-thirds of consumers (66 percent) said they had a positive impression of animal biotechnology when informed that “animal biotechnology can improve the quality and safety of food,” up from 59 percent in 2006. More than half of Americans (53 percent) reacted positively to the statement “animal biotechnology can increase farm efficiency,” up from 36 percent in 2005 and 47 percent in 2006.

  • Labeling

Satisfaction with current information on food labels remained high in 2007. Only 16 percent of consumers mentioned information they felt was missing, with less than one percent specifically mentioning biotechnology.

FDA requires special labeling only when the use of biotechnology introduces an allergen, or when it substantially changes the food’s nutritional content. Well over half of those polled (61 percent) “strongly” or “somewhat” support the FDA labeling requirements for food produced using biotechnology, while 24 percent were “neutral” which was unchanged from last year’s survey.

  • Sustainability

This year, IFIC included questions about “sustainability” in the food biotechnology survey for the first time. Although Americans use a variety of terms to describe “sustainability,” 83 percent equate the term to “long-lasting” or “self-sufficiency.” Close to three-quarters of Americans (70 percent), however, say they have heard “nothing” about sustainable food production.

When sustainability was defined as a method to “operate in a manner which does not jeopardize the availability of resources for future generations,” 63 percent of Americans said they thought it was important. In a question where consumers were asked to rank 5 factors related to growing crops in a sustainable way, the factor ranked number one was “increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger”, with “reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food” coming in second. Other eco-friendly factors like rainforest conservation and reducing green house gas emissions ranked lower.

  • Methodology

IFIC commissioned Cogent Research to conduct the 12th in a series (1997-2007) of quantitative assessments of U.S. adult consumer attitudes toward food biotechnology from July11- 27, 2007. The survey had a sample size of 1,000 and the data were weighted on age and education to be nationally representative.

For additional information on the food biotechnology survey, or to schedule an interview with an expert please call the IFIC Media Team at 202-296-6540.

The International Food Information Council's (IFIC's) mission is to effectively communicate science-based information on food safety and nutrition to health and nutrition professionals, educators, journalists, government officials and others providing information to consumers. IFIC is supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries. IFIC materials can be found on our Web site: http://ific.org.

Contact:
Jeff Strei, strei(at)ific.org
Jania Matthews, matthews(at)ific.org
Leslie McClain, mcclain(at)ific.org
Phone: (202) 296-6540

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