Most consumers still against cloning, reveals new survey

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Percent Food

The majority of American consumers are still against the idea of
eating products derived from cloned animals, although confidence
levels shoot up if these products are deemed safe by the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA).

According to a new national survey commissioned by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), 50 percent of American consumers have an unfavorable view of cloning, while 28 percent remain neutral.

Out of the 1000 people surveyed in July this year, only 22 percent viewed animal cloning in a favorable light, suggesting once again that the public is not ready to accept the controversial technology.

However, the survey did find that if FDA determined that foods from cloned animals are safe, 46 percent of consumers would view the technology favorably, with 49 percent saying they would likely purchase such products if safety determinations were offered.

"Clearly, the role of FDA safety determinations should not be underestimated," wrote IFIC in its new report Food Biotechnology:

A Study of US Consumer Attitudinal Trends, 2007.

Also crucial in consumer acceptance is a clearer understanding of the technology.

Survey results revealed that when the term 'from cloned animals' was replaced by 'from animals enhanced through genetic engineering', the number of Americans who said they would likely buy these foods jumped to 61 percent.

The importance of consumer understanding is also seen in attitudes towards sustainability, which was added into the annual survey for the first time this year.

Almost three quarters of Americans said they had heard nothing about sustainable food production.

When sustainability was defined as a method to 'operate in a manner which does not jeopardize the availability of resources for future generations', 63 percent of participants said they thought it was important.

In a question where consumers were asked to rank 5 factors related to growing crops in a sustainable way, the factor ranked number one was 'increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger', with 'reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food' coming in second.

Other eco-friendly factors like rainforest conservation and reducing green house gas emissions ranked lower.

The survey also examined food safety concerns, which unsurprisingly were higher than last year.

Confidence in the food supply dipped to 69 percent, compared to 72 percent last year, with the number of those claiming to be 'very confident' falling to 15 percent, compared to 21 percent last year.

A quarter of Americans cited no particular food safety concern.

Of the three-quarters of respondents who listed a specific food safety concern, disease and contamination topped the list at 38 percent; however, the biggest increase was in the 'source' category, where concern about country of origin caused this category to rise from 6 percent of those citing a specific concern with the food supply in 2006 to 20 percent this year.

Handling and preparation decreased as a food safety concern, cited by 26 percent of those citing a specific concern this year, dropping nine percent from last year's survey.

In terms of labeling, most consumers reported being satisfied with the current food labeling system.

Only 16 percent said they felt certain information was missing, with less than one percent specifically mentioning biotechnology.

However, it is worth noting that less than one quarter of American consumers believe that biotech foods are currently available in supermarkets, which highlights a huge gap in consumer education and informed choices.

This gap is largely a result of the fact that FDA regulations do not require the labeling of biotech foods, unless the use of biotechnology introduces an allergen, or if it substantially changes the food's nutritional content.

Nevertheless, according to IFIC, 95 percent of consumers reported that they would not take any actions because of concerns they may have about food produced using biotechnology.

Only 2.5 percent of respondents said they would alter their purchasing behavior.

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