Knowledge of genetically modified (GM) foods in the US remains low and their opinions about its safety are just as divided as they were two years ago, according to a new survey released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
The survey also shows that knowing FDA reviewed and approved a GM product can increase public confidence and that public support for GM products decreases as uses of the technology shift from plants to animals.
Using data from a similar survey released by the Pew Initiative in March 2001 for tracking purposes, the survey released today suggests that Americans' knowledge about GM foods remains low - even as GM technology is increasingly applied to agriculture. In 2001, 44 per cent had heard "a great deal" or "some" about genetically modified foods; today, that number is 34 per cent, a 10 point decline.
Similarly, 45 per cent had heard "a great deal" or "some" about biotechnology use in food production; today, that number is 36 per cent, a nine point decline.
Although it has been estimated that between 70 and 75 per cent of processed foods in grocery stores contain GM foods, just 24 per cent of Americans believe they have eaten GM foods while 58 per cent say they have not, suggesting that Americans continue not to recognise the extent to which GM foods are present in foods they eat every day.
Opposition to GM foods has softened somewhat in the last two years but opinions about safety remain split. Today, 25 per cent of people polled reported they would support the introduction of GM foods to the US food supply, down only 1 point from 26 per cent in 2001. At the same time, opposition has declined ten points, from 58 per cent opposed in 2001 to 48 per cent opposed today. But Americans have essentially the same opinion about the overall safety of GM foods as they did in 2001: 27 per cent of consumers say that GM foods are "basically safe" (down from 29 per cent), while 25 per cent say that they are "basically unsafe" (the same as in 2001). Taken together, these numbers indicate that the American public continues to have divided opinions about GM foods.
"When it comes to genetically modified products, the US public clearly supports the role of regulatory bodies like the FDA to provide an independent safety approval for new biotechnology food products," said Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. "This finding suggests that the actions of government agencies are likely to play an important role in influencing public acceptance of the next generation of agricultural biotechnology products."
The nationwide survey, conducted between 5 and 10 August 2003 by The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, consisted of telephone interviews of 1,000 American consumers. Data from a similar survey, released by the Pew Initiative in March 2001, was used for tracking purposes. A summary of findings from the survey, as well as the statistical results can be viewed here.Results of the poll released in March 2001 can be viewed here.
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research project whose goal is to inform the public and policymakers on issues about genetically modified food and agricultural biotechnology, including its importance, as well as concerns about it and its regulation. It is funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond.