While criticism of genetically modified foods has received widespread media attention in the past few years, consumers remain generally supportive of food biotechnology, according to an industry-funded survey released Thursday.
The evaluation – conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) – found that 38 percent of consumers have a somewhat or very favorable opinion towards plant biotechnology, up from 32 percent in 2010. A smaller 26 percent were neither favorable nor unfavorable, and 20 percent were either somewhat or very unfavorable.
The majority of the consumers also found no need to change the way foods produced with biotechnology are labeled. Current FDA standards require that only changes to nutritional content or composition of a food or a food safety issue must be identified on packaging.
In a similar display of trust in the food system, 69 percent of the 750 survey respondents reported being somewhat or very confident in the safety of the food supply, a level that has remained the same since the last “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey in 2010.
Respondents also relayed overall satisfaction with the information currently provided on food labels, with only 24 percent reporting additional information they would like to see on packaging.
Of those people who requested a change in food labeling, 18 percent reported wanting more information on food safety, a figure that jumped from only 3 percent in the 2010 survey.
The change most commonly desired by consumers was more nutrition information, with 36 percent of those who want altered food labeling requesting that more data on nutrition content be displayed.
Another thing increasingly on consumers’ minds these days is sustainability, according to the study.
IFIC found that 56 percent of participants had heard of or read something about sustainability, an increase from 50 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2008. Almost 70 percent said it’s important that the food they eat is produced in a sustainable way, but only 33 percent said they would be willing to pay more for this food.
“Not surprisingly, awareness of sustainability among consumers is high,” said Marianne Smith Edge, IFIC’s Senior Vice President of Nutrition and Food Safety in a statement Thursday. “The catch is that we see from survey responses that consumers have many different definitions of sustainability, which can make meeting that expectation a challenge.”
While the majority of consumers are now sustainability-savvy, many are not as educated about biotechnology, especially when it comes to animal production. The most common reason given by those “not favorable” towards animal biotechnology was “a lack of information and not understanding [its] benefits,” according to the executive summary.
Benefits was a key word for participants when it came to biotechnology, with strong majorities supporting technologies that would reduce the need for pesticides, improve nutritional quality, or increase production capacity in order to feed a greater number of people.