Polls at odds about biotech food safety

As if pollsters weren't busy enough sampling public opinion on the upcoming presidential contest, they've also been taking a look at the biotech foods issue.

Problem is: Two polls for two different organizations came up with, to no one's surprise, opposite conclusions.

An International Food Information Council (IFIC) survey found that a majority of Americans - 69 percent - support foods with genetically modified ingredients and are satisfied with Food and Drug Administration policies related to the safety of biotech foods. They also said they did not see a need for food labels to list genetically modified ingredients.

"This confidence in the FDA position has remained relatively stable over the past four years of our consumer attitude surveys, despite increasing controversy about food biotechnology," says David Schmidt, the organization's senior vice president for food safety. "When presented with all the facts about food biotechnology, the vast majority of consumers support its use and recognize its potential benefits."

A tad over half of those participating in the IFIC survey, 54 percent, said they likely would buy foods that had been enhanced for improved taste and/or freshness, while 69 percent said they would buy food from crops that had been altered to resist insects, particularly if it meant that farmers would then use fewer pesticides.

Indicative of how little U.S. consumers are aware of biotech crops-food issues, only 43 percent of the survey respondents said they were aware that their supermarkets are already carrying food products with genetically altered ingredients. But 59 percent said they believe they will benefit from biotechnology within five years.

Susan Pitman, associate director of food safety for the IFIC, says the survey "shows American consumers aren't following the trend in Europe to resist biotech foods. Americans have a different outlook on food and more trust in government regulatory agencies than their European counterparts. As American consumers become more aware of food biotechnology and its benefits, they become more supportive. This trend will continue, and will silence the critics of biotech foods."

The International Food Information Council is a non-profit organization that communicates sound science-based information on food safety and nutrition topics to health professionals, government officials, consumers, and the media. It is supported by broad-based food, beverage, and agricultural industries.

A second poll, conducted for the Organic Consumers Association, came up with somewhat different findings - that 51 percent of Americans are opposed to genetically modified foods, an increase from 45 percent in 1998.

"Americans are growing more disenchanted with the concept of genetically modified foods," says Joanna Karman of the Angus Reid Group, which carried out the survey. "Genetic modification has become one of the top three issues facing the agriculture and food industry in many countries, ranking up there with pesticide use and topped only by the future of agriculture as it relates to farmers and loss of the family farm."

She says American and Canadian consumers "see themselves as shouldering the risks, but not reaping the benefits... and they are becoming less confident and less comfortable with this technology."

Ronnie Cummins, the association's national director, takes issue with the findings of the IFIC survey. "As usual," he says, "their polls don't jibe with independent polls, which show that many Americans want labels on biotech foods, and would avoid those foods if they were labeled." He says the food industry "knows if the stuff is labeled, consumers will avoid it, and stores won't sell it. They claim it's safe, but they don't have any evidence."

And, he contends, "The longer this debate goes on, the more evidence is going to come to light that there's no proof these things are safe."

and the herbicides available and go after the Section 18s we believe can be successful. We want growers to have every tool necessary to stay in business, but if a Section 18 request cannot be successful, all of the input in the world won't change that.

Landowners, managers, hunters and others interested in white-tailed deer can attend a day-long workshop on management techniques and hunting methods Sept. 9 at the Hattiesburg (Miss.) Convention Center.

Professional deer biologists from Mississippi State University, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, and other conservation organizations will provide highlights of deer research and management efforts.

Participants can attend sessions on the history and current status of deer in Mississippi, the life history and behavior of deer, different techniques to improve antler development, and how to age and judge live white-tailed deer before harvest. Other topics include food plantings for deer, the latest research on conducting infrared camera deer surveys and the impact of selected harvest strategies on deer herd quality.

Registration information is available by writing MSU's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Attention: Deer Short Course, Box 9690, Mississippi State, Miss. 39762, by calling 662-325-3174, or e-mailing [email protected]

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