Americans' knowledge of genetically modified foods remains low and their opinions about its safety are just as divided as they were two years ago, according to a new survey released last week by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.
While Europe heads towards tougher labelling of GM foods - less than popular with the US administration and farmers - the survey reveals that perhaps an FDA stamp of approval on a GM product could increase public confidence.
According to the survey, carried out by The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, one in four people polled said they would support the introduction of GM foods to the US food supply, down only one point from 26 per cent in 2001.
But Americans have essentially the same opinion about the overall safety of GM foods as they did in 2001 with 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 , like elsewhere in the world, continues to have divided opinions about GM foods.
Despite the fact that approximately 70-75 per cent of processed foods on the supermarket shelves in the US contain GM foods, only 24 per cent of Americans believe they have eaten GM foods while 58 per cent say they have not, suggesting that Americans are either burying their heads in the sand or simply choose not to recognise the extent to which GM foods are present in foods they eat on a daily basis.
But it would seem that perhaps they are just simply unaware of the GM presence. The survey showed that Americans' knowledge about GM foods remains low - even as GM technology is increasingly applied to agriculture. In 2001, nearly half of those polled - 44 per cent - had heard 'a great deal' or 'some' about genetically modified foods. Today, that number has slipped to 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 figure stands at 36 per cent, a nine point decline.
According to the Pew study, Americans oppose a ban on GM foods, but are strongly supportive of a regulatory process that directly involves the FDA. Sixty-four per cent of Americans disagree with the statement, 'genetically modified foods should not be allowed to be sold even if the Food and Drug Administration believes they are safe', but very few believe that GM foods should be allowed to go on the market without FDA review.
Eighty-nine per cent of Americans agree with the statement 'Companies should be required to submit safety data to the Food and Drug Administration for review, and no genetically modified food product should be allowed on the market until the FDA determines it is safe'. Taken together, writes the Pew group, these statistics demonstrate that consumers want to see that the FDA is involved with a genetically modified food product before it is put on the market.