Three-Fourths of Americans Want to Know
if They Are Eating Frankenfoods

Monday March 26 1:18 PM ET
Most Americans Want to Know if Eating Bio-Foods
By Julie Vorman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three-fourths of Americans want to
know whether their food contains gene-spliced ingredients, according
to a public opinion poll released Monday by the Pew Charitable Trust,
a non-profit group trying to find common ground among biotech food
advocates and critics.

The Pew initiative on biotech foods is a newly formed group that aims
to bring together giant biotech companies, green groups and federal
policymakers to debate the pros and cons of gene-altered foods.

As its first project, the group commissioned a telephone survey of
1,001 Americans in January to assess how consumers view biotech foods.

Some 75 percent of respondents said it was somewhat or very important to
them to know if their food has been genetically altered. Only 21 percent of
those surveyed said it was not important.

Mike Rodemeyer, director of initiative, said the survey did not ask
consumers if they wanted more information in the form of labels on food

Mandatory labeling has become more widely debated since the recall of
hundreds of U.S. taco shells, snack chips and other corn flour products
last autumn for contamination with an unapproved variety of biotech corn.
StarLink, a variety made by Aventis SA, was linked to more than two
dozen claims of allergic reactions by consumers.

The Pew poll showed that 73 percent of respondents were somewhat
or very concerned about the StarLink food recall, said Neil Newhouse,
who helped conduct the survey. And 22 percent said the recall and its
aftermath caused them to change their food purchasing habits, he told

Industry Opposes Labels

Mandatory labels have been fiercely opposed by the U.S. food industry,
which contends such labels would raise concerns about the safety of
bio-foods and scare away shoppers. Instead of labels, food makers say
toll-free telephone numbers and Internet Web sites can offer enough
information for curious consumers.

Labels on genetically altered foods have been adopted by Britain,
Japan, South Korea, Australia and most of Europe.

Environmental and consumer groups have unsuccessfully urged the Food
and Drug Administration (news - web sites) to require labels in the same
way other useful information is provided on the product. In January, the
FDA rejected mandatory labels, saying they were unnecessary unless
gene-spliced foods contained potential allergens or had significant
nutritional changes.

The agency took the action despite overwhelming agreement among its
own consumer focus groups that gene-spliced foods should be labeled
in the interest of fair disclosure.

The FDA is currently reviewing public comments on its labeling policy.

The Pew initiative survey mirrored a series of recent public opinion
polls showing Americans are not sure about the safety of biotech foods
and want to know more about them.

A survey by the food industry's International Food Information Council
Foundation found last month that 58 percent of Americans surveyed
thought gene-altered foods should be labeled as such.

The Pew survey also asked consumers about the safety of bio-foods.

Some 46 percent of respondents said they did not know, while 29
percent said genetically engineered foods were safe and 25
percent said they were unsafe.

But when told that bio-foods are already widely found in grocery
stores, a significant number of respondents changed their minds
and said gene-altered food was safe.

``Consumers don't have strong views about the safety of genetically
modified foods,'' Rodemeyer told reporters. ``It suggests that
consumer opinion on safety may be up for grabs.''

The Pew initiative will hold a series of conferences and workshops to
try and find common ground among the food industry and
environmental groups, Rodemeyer said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, a Democrat, and former
Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber, a Republican, will lead an
advisory panel for the Pew initiative. Last year, Glickman created an
agricultural biotech advisory panel to make recommendations
to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

The Pew survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

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