Consumers show interest in biotechnology: IFIC

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 percent indicated they would be somewhat or very likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology that required fewer pesticide applications and 71 percent 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 US 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 percent had some awareness of animal biotechnology with 33 percent saying they view the technology somewhat or very favorably. Another 26 percent said they had an unfavorable view while 25 percent said they were neutral and 16 percent said they did not know enough to form an opinion. Among those who were neutral or unfavorable toward animal biotechnology, 55 percent 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 percent 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 FDA has determined such products are safe, 71 percent said they would be likely to buy meat, milk and eggs from animals enhanced through genetic engineering.

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

In regard to federal food labeling rules, the survey found 76 percent 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 percent who wanted more information, 36 percent of that percentage wanted information related to nutritional content, 19 percent wanted more information about ingredients and 18 percent wanted more information related to food safety, such as possible allergens. Less than 1 percent of all the people surveyed wanted more information about biotechnology.

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

In 2012, 69 percent said it was important that foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way, but only 33 percent 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 percent said health organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association, 56 percent said government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA, 54 percent said agriculture organizations such as the Farm Bureau, 49 percent said health professionals such as doctors and nurses, and 40 percent said consumer advocacy groups.
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