Survey shows interest in biotechnology

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans would be likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology if they knew about certain benefits, according to an International Food Information Council survey released May 10.

According to the survey “Consumer perceptions of food & sustainability,” 77% indicated they would be somewhat or very likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology that required fewer pesticide applications and 71% indicated they likely would purchase biotech foods that provided more healthful fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.

Cogent Research of Cambridge, Mass., fielded the survey March 7-19 by polling 750 U.S. adults in an on-line survey. The survey was the 15th one that IFIC has presented on consumer perception of biotechnology in food.

In the survey, 57% had some awareness of animal biotechnology with 33% saying they view the technology somewhat or very favorably. Another 26% said they had an unfavorable view while 25% said they were neutral and 16% said they did not know enough to form an opinion. Among those who were neutral or unfavorable toward animal biotechnology, 55% said it was because they did not have enough information about the technology.

“This indicates that additional education/information about animal biotechnology could help to improve consumer understanding, enabling them to make more informed decisions regarding animal biotechnology,” the survey said.

In the survey, 50% had a very favorable or somewhat favorable impression of genomics, defined as a way of evaluating the genetic makeup of farm animals to help make breeding decisions that will result in producing better offspring for improved meat, milk and egg quality.

Genetic engineering was defined as a form of animal biotechnology that allows for the transfer of beneficial traits from one animal to another in a precise way that allows for improved nutritional content or less environmental impact. Given that the F.D.A. has determined such products are safe, 71% said they would be likely to buy meat, milk and eggs from animals enhanced through genetic engineering.

According to the survey, 74% of Americans are aware of plant biotechnology and 38% are favorable toward its use, which is up from 32% in the 2010 survey. Of the 35% who expect biotechnology will provide benefits to them or their families in the next five years, 36% expect nutrition and health benefits and 22% listed improved quality, taste and variety.

In regard to federal food labeling rules, the survey found 76% could not think of any additional information, other than what already is required, that they wish to see on food labels. Breaking down the 24% who wanted more information, 36% of that percentage wanted information related to nutritional content, 19% wanted more information about ingredients and 18% wanted more information related to food safety, such as possible allergens. Less than 1% of all the people surveyed wanted more information about biotechnology.

The survey found an increasing awareness of sustainability issues. In the 2012 survey, 56% had heard or read something about sustainability in food production, which compared with 50% in the 2010 survey and 41% in the 2008 survey. IFIC presents the surveys every other year.

In 2012, 69% said it was important that foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way, but only 33% said they were willing to pay more for products that fit their concept of sustainability.
Conserving the natural habitat, ensuring an efficient food supply for the growing global population and reducing the amount of pesticides used to reduce food were given as top areas of importance for sustainability.

When asked to rank the top five sources they trust for information on sustainability, 64% said health organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association, 56% said government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the F.D.A., 54% said agriculture organizations such as the Farm Bureau, 49% said health professionals such as doctors and nurses, and 40% said consumer advocacy groups.

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