|Nov. 3, 2003|
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BIO 2001 International Biotechnology
How to win over the public perception regarding GM foods: a checklist for industry - Wyatt Andrews, National Correspondent, CBS News
But in recent months, thats changed. According to panelist Michael Rodemeyer, executive director for the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, while "Americans are more aware of genetically modified food than they were six months ago, confidence in the ability of government regulators to manage these products is mixed," he reported, referencing a Zogby International poll released in June by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (see: Michael Rodemeyer BIO 2001 presentation).
"The national level of awareness is a notable increase of 11 percent from an earlier study conducted for the Initiative by the Mellman Group/Public Opinion Strategies in January 2001, when fewer than half, 44 percent, of respondents reported hearing a great deal or some about genetically modified foods," Rodemeyer said.
"The Zogby poll also revealed that consumers have mixed confidence in the governments ability to manage genetically modified foods, following last falls recall of products contaminated with StarLink corn -- a type of genetically modified corn approved only for use in animal feed that accidentally made its way into the human food supply. More than half of respondents, or 52 percent, said they were very or somewhat confident that government regulators can manage genetically modified foods and ensure consumer safety, while 45 percent said they were not too confident or not at all confident in the government."
Last month, government scientists concluded that they found no evidence that linked allergic reactions to StarLink corn. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tested the blood of 17 people who believed they had ingested the bioengineered corn to see if the corn had raised antibodies to the suspected allergen. Inasmuch as no antibodies were found, the agencies concluded that none of the people had had immune reactions to the corn protein, cry9c.
The Zogby International poll also suggested that consumers may be more likely to hear about product recalls and generally negative information about genetically modified food than supportive studies. By comparison, the January poll found that 57 percent of people surveyed had heard about the StarLinkTM recall. In contrast, only a little more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents had heard about the June 14, 2001 Centers for Disease Control report finding no evidence that StarLinkTM corn caused allergic reactions in the 28 cases they had investigated.
"Given the U.S. experience with StarLinkTM product recalls, it is not surprising that some consumers are questioning the governments ability to handle these products even in the absence of any demonstrated harm," said Rodemeyer. "We must try to learn from Europe, where governments lost credibility in their ability to handle food safety, and work to ensure that our own government agencies are up to the task of appropriately regulating this new, promising technology."
Panelist Jennifer Sosin, senior managing director of KRC Research, a public opinion company that polls for the industry-funded Council for Biotechnology Information, reported that a recent survey demonstrated that "the more information consumers had on the benefits of GM foods, the more likely they were to support GM foods."
Rodemeyer concurred and added:
"Despite the heated national debate about agricultural biotechnology, our research shows that most Americans do not have strong or well-informed opinions about this new technology," Rodemeyer said. "Interesting to note is that after hearing that more than half of the foods on supermarket shelves are genetically modified, one in five of those who initially said GM foods are unsafe changed their minds.
"Essentially, public opinion is up for grabs because this new technology has moved faster than the publics ability to fully understand it and its implications," he said.