IFIC Survey Finds Consumers Support Current Food Labeling Policies

Two-thirds (66 percent) of consumers say they support the FDA’s current labeling policy for foods produced through biotechnology
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SUMMARY
The International Food Information Council (IFIC) survey, “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology & Sustainability”, shows U.S. consumers overwhelmingly support current federal rules for labeling foods. Of the small percentage of consumers who want more detail on their labels, only 3 percent (or 1 percent of the total sample) cited biotechnology as an information need on the label.
 
IFIC reported that satisfaction with current food labels continues to be high with 76 percent of consumers unable to think of any additional information that they wish to see on food labels. When presented with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) current labeling policy for foods produced using biotechnology, 66 percent supported the current policy.
 
The survey also showed that the majority of Americans (74 percent) have some awareness of plant biotechnology and that consumers responded favorably to purchasing foods modified by biotechnology that required fewer pesticide applications (77 percent); or that provided more healthful fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids (71 percent).
 
BACKGROUND
The 2012 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” Survey is the 15th in a nationally representative series that has been conducted since 1997. Fielded by independent research firm Cogent Research of Cambridge, 750 U.S. adults were polled using an online survey tool. 
 
This survey tracks trends on public awareness and perceptions of various aspects of plant and animal biotechnology, measures confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply, and attitudes toward food labeling.  It also identifies benefits of food biotechnology that resonate with consumers and explores awareness and perceptions of the importance of sustainable food production.
 
KEY FINDINGS OF THE REPORT
 
  • Consumers are generally satisfied with information currently provided on food labels.
    • 76 percent say they cannot think of anything additional they would like to see on the label
    • Of the 24 percent who want more detail, only 3 percent (or 1 percent of the total sample) cited biotech as an info need on the label
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of consumers say they support the FDA’s current labeling policy for foods produced through biotechnology
     
  • Since 2007, Americans’ confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained high, with more than two-thirds indicating they are “somewhat or very confident” and only 2 percent of respondents listed biotech as a top-of-mind concern when asked about food safety concerns. 
     
  • The majority of Americans (69 percent) say that sustainability is somewhat or very important to them, although when asked if they would be willing to pay more for food or beverages produced in a sustainable way only 33 percent say yes
    • Consumers ranked various aspects of sustainability in order of importance with “conserving the natural habitat” (35 percent) coming out on top followed by “ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population” (32 percent) and “reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce foods” (30 percent)
  • Nearly three in four (74 percent) consumers have heard at least “a little” about the concept of food biotechnology. Consumers responded favorably to purchasing foods modified by biotechnology that required fewer pesticide applications (77 percent); or that provided more healthful fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids (71 percent)
     
  • About one-third (33 percent) of Americans are somewhat or very favorable toward animal biotechnology, while one-quarter (25 percent) are neither favorable nor unfavorable. Lack of information about animal biotechnology is the primary reason for consumers who say they are “not favorable” toward the technology.
 
 
TALKING POINTS 
  • Education is important to continue raising awareness, but simply labeling a food ‘Genetically Engineered’ or ‘GE’ doesn’t provide any meaningful information to consumers. Most consumers don’t know that farmers and seed breeders have been genetically enhancing plants since the dawn of agriculture to make them disease and pest resistant, to make plants hardier and healthier, and to enable food to be grown in a more environmentally sustainable manner.
     
  • A specific label won’t inform consumers that genetic engineering is simply the most precise breeding tool available. In addition, since there are no food safety concerns associated with genetically enhanced food, nor are there material differences between food that is and isn’t grown using biotechnology, doesn’t it make sense to reserve the limited space on a food label for important food safety and nutritional information?
     
  • This year’s IFIC survey shows that, by and large, perceptions of food technology have remained steady, despite the increased coverage of food technology and modern food production issues in the media in the last year. 
     
  • Most consumers are favorable toward various benefits offered through plant and animal biotechnology, especially those that may have a positive impact on their health and/or the health of the planet.
     
  • Satisfaction with information currently on food labels and the FDA’s labeling policy remains high.
     
  • Awareness of sustainable food production remains at its highest, and is an important aspect consumers want in food and beverage products they are purchasing. Biotech can help produce foods that meet these sustainability requirements as it provides environmental benefits including crops that require less cultivation and fewer pesticide applications, thereby saving fuel and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions into the air. This also improves soil health and water retention.  
     
  • “In the public landscape, we often see polling that tries to provoke or frighten people into giving a certain desired response,” said IFIC President and CEO David Schmidt.  “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.”
 
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The International Food Information Council Survey, “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” and related materials can be found here: http://www.foodinsight.org/Resources/Detail.aspx?topic=2012ConsumerPerceptionsofTechnologySurvey
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