We hear a lot from the people opposed to all sorts of technology in agriculture and food production. Their accusations, conspiracy theories and David-versus-Goliath posturing make good headlines. But according to a new edition of a long-running series of studies from the International Food Information Council (IFIC), most U.S. consumers are open-minded about modern tools such as biotechnology in food production.

The 2012 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology & Sustainability” survey also shows that Americans remain highly supportive of existing federal rules for labeling foods produced through biotechnology and very few cite biotechnology as an information need on the food label.                                              

The data also indicate that when consumers are skeptical about biotechnology, a primary reason for their doubts is a lack of understanding of the technology and its benefits, suggesting an opportunity to build support through education and information.

Since 2007, Americans’ confidence in the safety of the U.S. food supply has remained high, according to IFIC. In the 2012 survey, 69 percent of consumers indicated they are “somewhat or very confident” in the safety of the food supply, matching the response in the 2007 survey. When asked about specific food safety concerns, only 2 percent of respondents listed biotechnology as a top-of-mind concern.

Asked about the information provided on food labels, 76 percent indicated they can’t think of anything they want added to the labels, while 24 percent want more information. Among those, 36 percent want more nutritional information, 19 percent want more information on ingredients and 18 percent want more food-safety information. Just three percent of that group indicated they want biotechnology information on labels, and 66 percent of all respondents support FDA’s current labeling policy for foods produced using biotechnology.

Asked about biotechnology in animal-based food production, 33 percent view the technology favorably, 26 percent unfavorably, 25 percent are neutral and 16 percent indicated they do not have enough information to form an opinion. When asked why they are unfavorable toward animal biotechnology, 55 percent responded that they do not have enough information and 42 percent said they do not understand the benefits.

Half of consumers have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” impression of and 44 percent have a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” impression of genetic engineering in animals.  Seventy one percent of respondents indicated they would be likely to buy meat, milk, and eggs from animals enhanced through genetic engineering, given the FDA’s determination that these products are safe.

The survey also included some questions regarding sustainability in food production, and results indicate awareness of sustainability is growing, although consumers don’t always agree about what it means. In the 2012 survey, 55 percent of respondents have heard or read at least “a little” about the concept of sustainability in food production, up from 41 percent in 2008 and 30 percent in 2007.

Sixty nine percent believe sustainability is important, 25 percent are neutral and 6 percent believe it is unimportant, according to the 2012 survey.

Among those perceiving sustainability as important, 35 percent characterize sustainability as conserving the natural habitat, while 32 percent see it as ensuring a sufficient food supply for the growing global population, 30 percent believe it involves reducing the amount of pesticides used to produce food and 24 percent say it means ensuring an affordable food supply. 

Read more from the IFIC.