IFIC: Consumers generally satisfied with food labels

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — A significant majority of consumers support the Food and Drug Administration’s current labeling policy for food produced using biotechnology, according to a new survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). The “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey also found many consumers are likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology for certain health benefits such as nutrition.

“The survey has consistently shown for more than 16 years that, when made aware of the health and agronomic benefits of food biotechnology, most Americans are receptive, indicating that accurate information about the technology is important to promoting informed food choices,” IFIC said.

According to the survey, 63% of consumers support the current F.D.A. policy for labeling of foods produced through biotechnology, which compares with 66% in 2012, 63% in 2010 and 60% in 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage of consumers who oppose the F.D.A. policy has grown, to 19% in 2014 from 14% in 2012 and 13% in 2010 and 2008.

Americans’ general satisfaction with current food labels remains high, with 74% of those surveyed saying they could not think of any additional information they would like added to food labels. Among all respondents, 6% said they wanted additional nutritional information, 5% wanted more ingredient information and 4% wanted information about biotechnology or related terms.

“Years of legislation, ballot measures, and mischaracterization of food biotechnology have not affected overall support of F.D.A.’s biotech labeling policy,” said David Schmidt, president and chief executive officer of IFIC. “However, they have likely played a role in the modest increase we’re seeing in those who oppose it.”

The survey also examined consumers’ perceptions of food biotechnology. According to IFIC, 71% of Americans said they have some awareness of plant biotechnology, down from 74% in 2012 but up from 69% in 2010 and 70% in 2008. But the percentage of Americans who said they have “a lot” of awareness climbed to 11% in 2014, up from 10% in 2012 and compared with 7% in 2010 and 8% in 2008.

The majority of Americans surveyed said they would be likely to purchase foods modified by biotechnology for various nutrition and health-related benefits. Seventy-two per cent said they would be likely to purchase food product made with oils modified by biotechnology to provide more healthful fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, in the food, while 67% said they would be likely to buy bread, crackers, cookies, cereals or pasta made with flour modified to enhance nutritional benefits, and 67% also said they would be likely to buy food product made with oils modified by biotechnology to eliminate the trans fat content in the food.

The IFIC survey found awareness of sustainability in food production remains relatively high, with 57% of Americans saying they have heard or read something about sustainability in food production. But only 26% of consumers said they are willing to pay more for foods that fit their perception of sustainability, down from 33% in 2012. Two-thirds of consumers said it is important that the foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way (with sustainability being defined as “meeting long-term food needs by producing more food affordably with the same or fewer resources, in a way that is better for the environment and keeps food affordable and accessible for consumers”).

“When consumers understand the potential benefits that technology in food production can have for both people and the planet, they can get behind it,” said Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice-president of nutrition and food safety at IFIC. “People need to know what’s in it for them.”

The 16th “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey was conducted by Market Strategies International between March 28 and April 7 and involved 1,000 U.S. adults polled using an on-line survey tool. For the full report visit www.foodinsight.org.
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