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Educating Consumers About Biotechnology

Tue, 10/06/2009 - 5:35am

According to results from the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 13th annual Food Biotechnology: A Study of US Consumer Trends survey, Americans have a limited understanding of biotechnology as it relates to food production, and few express concerns about its safety. Results indicate an important opportunity for the U.S. food industry to educate consumers about the benefits of food biotechnology, including its role in environmental sustainability.

Consistent with 2007, about half (53 percent) of consumers expressed a neutral attitude about the use of biotechnology in food production in 2008. Thirty-one percent have a favorable impression of biotech foods and only one percent expressed safety concerns. Issues of greater concern include food contamination/disease, handling/preparation, food sources and health and nutrition.

Most importantly, findings indicate that favorable impressions of biotechnology correlate with increased awareness, highlighting the importance of consumer education.

Agricultural biotechnology contributes to environmental sustainability by enabling the adoption of conservation tillage (no-till) farming practices and decreased use of herbicides and pesticides, resulting in improved soil, air and water quality. While the majority of consumers (80 percent) report little understanding of the concept of sustainability, after the terminology is explained, 58 percent say it is important that foods they purchase come from a producer enrolled in a scientifically-validated sustainability program.

Recognizing the need to increase awareness and understanding of biotechnology, the United Soybean Board (USB) has convened a Biotechnology Initiative comprised of seven board members. The Initiative's goal is to establish biotechnology as a global tool to enable U.S. farmers to feed a growing world population with a safe, secure, sustainable and healthy food supply. As a part of the initiative, USB is developing a compendium of research that will be published in 13 languages and distributed to the scientific community, government officials and relevant NGO organizations. The compendium focuses on communicating the benefits and safety of biotechnology for human health, global farm communities and the environment.

IFIC’s research consists of a Web-based survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 American adults in July and August 2008. The survey aims to gather insight into consumer perspectives on food biotechnology, track awareness of food biotechnology and sustainability initiatives, assess consumer confidence in the U.S. food supply and understand attitudes about food labeling.

For more information about IFIC’s Food Biotechnology survey, click here.

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