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The International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2012 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology & Sustainability” survey shows that Americans remain highly supportive of existing federal rules for labeling foods produced through biotechnology and very few cite biotechnology as an information need on the food label.
According to the survey, satisfaction with current food labels remains high, despite extensive coverage of biotech labeling and modern food production issues in traditional and social media. Seventy-six percent of consumers could not think of any additional information (other than what is already required) that they wish to see on food labels. Of the 24 percent who wanted more information, 36 percent wanted information related to nutritional content; 19 percent wanted more information about ingredients; and 18 percent wanted more food safety related information, such as possible allergens. Only 3 percent of the 24 percent subset (or about five people and less than one percent of all surveyed) wanted more information about biotechnology. In addition, 87 percent of Americans say they have not taken any action out of concern about biotechnology.
And when consumers were presented with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current labeling policy for foods produced using biotechnology, which calls for labeling only when the food’s nutritional content or its composition is changed, or when a potential safety issue is identified, 66 percent of respondents indicated their support for the policy.
IFIC President and CEO David Schmidt said the strength of the methodology used in the IFIC survey sets it apart from other surveys looking at food technology issues.
“In the public landscape, we often see polling that tries to provoke or frighten people into giving a certain desired response,” Schmidt said. “We don’t believe in leading consumers to any conclusion. We believe our open-ended methodology used at the beginning of our survey provides a more accurate view of concerns on Americans’ minds, and the survey is the most objective and long-term publicly available data set on U.S. consumer attitudes toward food and agricultural biotechnology.”
Perceptions of biotechnology: The majority of Americans, 74 percent, have some awareness of plant biotechnology and almost 40 percent are favorable toward the use of biotechnology in food production. Of the 35 percent of consumers who expect biotechnology will provide benefits to them or their families in the next five years, 36 percent expect nutrition and health benefits, while 22 percent listed improved quality, taste and variety as beneficial characteristics to expect.
In terms of biotech foods consumers would be likely to purchase based on specific attributes, 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 would likely purchase biotech foods that provided more healthful fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids.
In addition, a majority (57 percent) of Americans have some awareness of animal biotechnology, while 33 percent say they view the technology somewhat or very favorably. Of those who are “not favorable” (i.e. not very or not at all favorable, or neutral) toward animal biotechnology, 55 percent say not having enough information about the technology is the reason for their answer.
Importance of sustainability: The 2012 survey found that awareness of the concept of sustainable food production remains relatively high, with 56 percent who have heard or read something about sustainability in food production. In 2010, 50 percent had heard or read something about it, and in 2008, 41 percent were aware of the concept. New this year, most consumers (69 percent) say it is important that foods they purchase or consume are produced in a sustainable way. However, only 33 percent of consumers say they are willing to pay more for products that fit their concept of sustainability.
“Not surprisingly, awareness of sustainability among consumers is high,” said Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC senior VP of nutrition and food safety. “Consumers expect that the foods they purchase will be produced sustainably. The catch is that we see from survey responses that consumers have many different definitions of sustainability, which can make meeting that expectation a challenge.”
Among those consumers perceiving sustainability as important, the top four characteristics of sustainability are conserving the natural habitat (35 percent), ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population (32 percent), reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food (30 percent) and ensuring an affordable food supply (24 percent).
Additional insights regarding perceptions of animal genomics, genetic engineering and nanotechnology can be found online.
The 15th “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey was fielded by Cogent Research of Cambridge, Mass., between March 7 and 19, and involved 750 U.S. adults polled using an online survey tool.
The International Food Information Council’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.