Survey Says: Consumers Don't Mind Biotechnology

But can we trust industry-funded research?

sweet corn on the cob
Seventy percent of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients. (planetc1/Creative Commons)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

You wouldn't believe it from reading about the Just Label It campaign—which garnered a million signatures recently in favor of putting labels on genetically modified foods—but according to a new recent survey, American consumers have a "favorable" opinion toward biotechnology.

A report from the industry-funded survey, conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), says that "thirty-eight percent of consumers are somewhat or very favorable toward plant biotechnology...while about one in four (26%) are neither favorable nor unfavorable, and two in ten (20%) are somewhat or very unfavorable."

The survey also says lax or favorable attitudes toward genetic engineering isn't limited to plants. The report states, "About one-third (33%) of Americans are somewhat or very favorable toward animal biotechnology, while one-quarter (25%) are neither favorable nor unfavorable...."

But can the survey be trusted? In case you missed it the first time, the survey is industry fundedwhich is sort of like when tobacco companies conduct research to prove cigarettes are safe. 

The point of the survey is to demonstrate to the food industry how to hawk more GE products. The opening paragraphs of the report state that, with this survey, IFIC is able to "identify benefits of food biotechnology that resonate with consumers; reveal gaps in awareness and uncover potential educational opportunities related to biotechnology and new and emerging technologies..."

Meanwhile, other groups have gotten feedback that runs counter to the findings of the IFIC. Take, for example, the IFIC report's section on food labeling: "Satisfaction with current food labels remains high," the report reads, "with only one-quarter (24%) of Americans reporting that they can think of additional information they would like to see on food labels." The Just Label It campaign, however, begs to differ, citing research that says 90 percent of Americans want labels to state whether foods contain genetically altered ingredients.

Genetically engineered animals have not been approved by the FDA as safe (a genetically engineered salmon is pending approval). Plants, on the other hand, have been widely manipulated by the food industry. The Center for Food Safety states that currently, 85 percent of U.S. corn, 91 percent of soybeans, 95 percent of sugar beets and 88 percent of cotton is genetically engineered.

Because so many of these foods are used in processed items like soda, soup, crackers, and noodles, approximately 70 percent of processed foods at grocery stores contain GE ingredients.

New to the conversation? Here are a few of the potential risks of GE foods, according to Sustainable Table:

Allergic reactions. This pertains to adding known allergens—such as peanuts—into other foods, potentially prompting reactions among people who are unaware they are consuming an allergen. There is also a potential risk for creating new allergens by combining genes and traits that have never been mixed.

Gene mutation. Scientists aren't certain whether inserting genetic material from one organism to another could destabilize the whole organism, leading to mutations and abnormalities. They also don't know whether eating GE food can affect people's DNA.

Antibiotic resistance. GE food could breed resistance to antibiotics among disease-causing bacteria, threatening an accelerated spread of disease worldwide.

Nutritional loss. Through genetic engineering, the nutritional value of food may be altered or lost.

Environmental damage. Animals and insects who pollinate fields and forests could transport genetically altered pollen, randomly creating new species with genetic modifications. Unfortunately, this type of "gene pollution" could not be cleaned up.

What do you think: Does the IFIC survey represent your feelings on genetically modified foods? Do you trust that the Food and Drug Administration is doing enough to regulate genetic engineering?

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