Food Engineering

Public uncertain about GMOs, study reveals

March 22, 2003
Americans don't know a lot about genetically modified food ingredients, but still want to be advised of any foodstuff that contains it, according to a consumer survey by the Pew Charitable Trust, a newly formed nonprofit group hoping to stimulate debate on the topic among biotech companies, green groups and federal policymakers.

The survey of 1001 consumers showed that a large number of consumers -- about 46 percent -- don't know what to make of genetically modified foods. Those who have formed an impression are evenly split: Some 29 percent believe they are safe while 25 percent believe they are unsafe.

And a full three-quarters of respondents indicated it was either somewhat or very important to them to know whether or not their food has been genetically altered.

Yet only 9 percent of respondents indicated they knew "a great deal" about genetically modified food, while more than half have heard "not much" or "nothing" about it.

But a full 75 percent favor additional scientific research of genetically modified foods.

Although the survey did not did not ask consumers if they wanted genetically modified food labeled, the issue of mandatory labeling has become more hotly debated since the recall of hundreds of U.S. taco shells, snack chips and other corn flour products containing StarLink, an unapproved variety of biotech corn.

Despite pressure from environmental and consumer groups to require the labeling of biotech foods, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated in January that labels were unnecessary unless gene-spliced foods contained potential allergens or had featured significant nutritional changes. However, FDA is currently reviewing public comments on its labeling policy.