Americans need more info on GM foods, reveals survey

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gm foods, Biotechnology, Genetic engineering

Public opinion about genetically modified (GM) foods remains
divided, but more information and more stringent regulation would
ease the fears of the majority of Americans, according to a new
survey.

Published last week by Pew Initiative, the new survey reveals that consumers are generally confused about the safety of GM foods, although opinions can shift with new information.

"In polls conducted over the last five years, we continue to see that public opinion remains 'up for grabs' on GM foods,"​ said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

"Still generally uncertain about GM foods, the US public has consistently supported strong and clear federal regulations to ensure that these products are safe. How the next generation of biotech products is introduced - and consumers' trust in the regulation of GM foods - will be critical in shaping US attitudes in the long term,"​ he added.

According to the poll, which aimed to gauge public understanding of and support for different types of GM foods, American opinions remain largely mixed.

Some 34 percent currently say they believe these foods are safe, while 29 percent believe they are unsafe. However, once information is provided about GM foods and the number of processed foods that are produced using some form of biotechnology, Americans feel more comfortable about the safety of the biotech products. In this context, 45 percent of respondents say GM foods are safe and 29 percent say they are unsafe, a 10-percentage point increase in net perceptions of safety.

At the same time, though, public awareness of biotechnology has declined over the last five years, with 41 percent of Americans saying they have heard of GM foods, compared to 45 percent in 2001. Additionally, consumers have consistently underestimated the amount of GM foods they most likely have eaten, with just 26 percent believing they have eaten such foods and 60 percent believing they have not in 2006.

The survey, which is in its fifth consecutive year, also reveals that regulation may increase consumer confidence in genetically modified foods.

Just over 40 percent of those surveyed believe there is too little regulation, while 43 percent said they would be more willing to eat GM foods if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was mandated to regulate these before they entered the marketplace.

However, in general, consumer trust in the FDA has declined in the last five years. In 2001, 41 percent of Americans said they trusted the agency when it came to information on GM foods, but the figure has since declined, to reach jut 29 percent this year. Most trusted sources for information in 2006 were revealed to be family and friends (37 percent), farmers (33 percent) and scientists and academics (32 percent).

The Pew Initiative survey also reveals that Americans are "overwhelmingly uncomfortable"​ with cloning, even though awareness still remains low. Out of those people who have heard about animal cloning, 61 percent said they were uncomfortable with it, while 68 percent of those who are unfamiliar with the process expressed reservations.

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