Americans' Knowledge of Genetically Modified Foods Remains Low; Majority Are Skeptical About Animal Cloning

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Washington, DC — Americans' knowledge of genetically modified (GM) foods and animals continues to remain low, and their opinions reflect that they are particularly uncomfortable with animal cloning, according to a new survey released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. 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.

Using data from similar surveys released by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology in March 2001, September 2003 and September 2004 for tracking purposes, the analysis of the poll and opinion survey released today provides an in-depth understanding of consumers' attitudes regarding GM foods. Highlights include:

  • Overall awareness of GM 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 percent) remain unaware of GM foods, with 41 percent saying they have heard about GM food that is sold in grocery stores.      
  • Consumers have heard little about the importation of foreign GM products, but favor U.S. regulation. The potential for importation of GM foods produced abroad is not on consumers' radar screen. Four in five Americans (80 percent) say they have heard little or nothing about importation of GM foods. Even so, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) oppose the importation of GM foods, including a majority (52 percent) who express strong opposition. In addition, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers surveyed strongly favor ensuring that foreign producers face the same level of regulation that American producers face.      
  • Americans claim to have heard about animal cloning – and are uncomfortable with it. The majority of people polled (65 percent) claims to have heard about animal cloning, compared to 41 percent of the public who have heard of GM foods, 34 percent who are familiar with GM animals, and less than one in five Americans (18 percent) 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 percent) of consumers believe food produced from animal clones is safe, while 43 percent believe it is unsafe; and one-third (34 percent) of consumers do not have an opinion on the safety of animal cloning.         
  • Consumers most strongly support GM 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 percent “very good reason”) or producing cattle resistant to mad cow disease (40 percent “very good reason.)”     
  • Consumers strongly believe that ethical and moral considerations should be part of the animal cloning regulatory equation. A strong majority (63 percent) of Americans believe government agencies should include moral and ethical considerations when making regulatory decisions about cloning and genetically modifying animals, with 53 percent feeling that way strongly.

“From the survey results, it is clear that moral and ethical concerns play a big role in forming consumer attitudes, particularly towards animal cloning, and that U.S. consumers want these issues to be part of the public debate,” said Michael Fernandez, executive director of the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. “Despite these concerns, consumers do not support banning new uses of biotechnology, but are looking to government regulators to provide assurance that new products are safe. The ability of the U.S. regulatory system to keep pace with changing technology – whether it's new GM crops or animals or imports – will be critical to maintaining consumer confidence.”

The nationwide survey, conducted by The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, October 10-16, consisted of telephone interviews of 1,000 American consumers. The margin of error for this survey is +/-3.1 percent. The margin of error is higher for subgroups.

GM foods have been in the U.S. marketplace for the past nine years. 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.

Americans' Knowledge of Genetically Modified Foods Remains Low; Majority Are Skeptical About Animal Cloning