Consumer Knowledge of Biotech Foods Remains Low

Pew poll reveals U.S. consumers believe ethical and moral considerations should be part of the U.S. government's regulation of genetically modified and cloned animals. Compiled by staff 

Published on: Nov 15, 2005

There is plenty of talk going on about consumer acceptance and awareness of cloned animals in anticipation of a Food and Drug Administration approval of the process in the coming weeks.

The latest is from a new Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology poll showing that Americans' knowledge of genetically modified foods and animals continues to remain low, and their opinions reflect that they are particularly uncomfortable with animal cloning. 

The survey also shows that religious and ethical concerns play a significant role in consumer attitudes towards cloning, and that a significant majority of consumers believe that the government should include ethical and moral considerations when making regulatory decisions about cloning and GM animals.

Despite continuing concerns about GM foods, consumers do not support banning new uses of the technology, but rather seek an active role from regulators to ensure that new products are safe. When asked about importation of foreign GM products, consumers demonstrated little awareness but clearly favor U.S. regulation.

Compared to past surveys conducted in Mary 2001, September 2003 and September 2004, overall awareness of biotech foods and biotechnology is up slightly, but overall attitudes are unchanged. While nearly sixty-one percent of Americans say they are generally familiar with science and technology, a majority of people polled (58%) remain unaware of GM foods, with 41% saying they have heard about GM food that is sold in grocery stores.

The survey confirms that most Americans have heard about animal cloning--and are uncomfortable with it. The majority of people polled (65%) claims to have heard about animal cloning, compared to 41% of the public who have heard of GM foods, 34% who are familiar with GM animals, and less than one in five Americans (18%) who are familiar with the potential importation of GM foods.

Sixty-six percent of American consumers polled indicated that they are largely uncomfortable with animal cloning. In addition, less than a quarter (23%) of consumers believe food produced from animal clones is safe, while 43% believe it is unsafe; and one-third (34%) of consumers do not have an opinion on the safety of animal cloning.

Consumers most strongly support biotech uses that are designed to protect against disease. Although most Americans oppose genetically modifying or cloning animals, the most widely favored uses are those that offer direct human benefits, including producing chickens resistant to avian flu (40% "very good reason") or producing cattle resistant to mad cow disease (40% "very good reason.)"

Today, approximately 105.7 million acres of GM crops are grown in the U.S., with farmers producing GM corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, squash and papaya. Other countries are beginning to develop their own GM food products which they may be interested in importing into the U.S. To date, all GM food products on the market have gone through the U.S. regulatory review process.

Scientists have developed GM or transgenic animals, which are animals with genes inserted from another organism, for a variety of purposes including treating human disease and improving the efficiency of food production. Animal clones, which are offspring genetically identical to a single parent, are being developed as a way of preserving elite animals for food production and preserving rare or endangered species. No products from GM or cloned animals have been approved for sale in the U.S.