By: Kimberly Reed, Executive Director of the International Food Information Council Foundation Date: 11/10/10
Nín hǎo. I recently presented risk communication best practices and IFIC’s research on U.S. consumer perceptions of food technology and labeling to nearly 200 Chinese officials, including from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Provincial Government Offices, scientists from research institutes, and local industry representatives, at a first-ever Food Biotechnology Safety Assessment and Risk Communication Forum. The Forum took place at Nanjing Agriculture University in Nanjing, China.
Simply stated, the Chinese said that they wanted to learn how to better communicate science-based issues to consumers, and asked professionals from the U.S., Brazil and the Philippines for their insights.
As part of my presentation, I stressed the importance of utilizing the Harvard University-IFIC Foundation "Guidelines for Communicating Emerging Science on Nutrition, Food Safety, and Health," which we had translated into Chinese for the attendees.
I also shared the results of the 2010 IFIC Food Technology Survey to show how U.S. consumers currently feel about the topic of food biotechnology. Confidence in the U.S. food supply remains high, with more than two-thirds of consumers indicating they are “somewhat confident or very confident” in the safety of the food supply. When asked about specific food safety concerns, only 2% of Survey respondents list biotechnology as a top-of-mind concern.
The Survey shows that U.S. consumers also are generally satisfied with information currently provided on food labels. Eighty-two percent say they cannot think of anything additional they would like to see on the label, and, of those looking for more information, only 3% suggested something related to biotechnology should be added to labels. In addition, more than six in ten (63%) consumers are satisfied with the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling policy for biotech foods.
Seeing the Forum attendees faces light up when new risk communication principles were introduced from the U.S., Brazil, and the Philippines helped confirm that this first-ever Forum was a success in "planting seeds" of helpful ideas. It was particularly meaningful to me when Mr. Duan Wude, Director-General of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, Development Center of Science and Technology, told the group: "Ms. Reed introduced concepts of risk communication, and we should learn a lot from them."
Living in a nation where some of our key crops are from biotech crops, we at the International Food Information Council Foundation believe that following good science-based risk communication practices is important to maintain credibility with consumers on the role food biotechnology plays and will continue to play both in the U.S. and around the globe. We also hope that those who support our Foundation's mission will continue to have discussions on risk communication best practices like the one that took place in China.
If you would like some helpful resources on our 2010 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” Survey that were shared at the Forum, including the Executive Summary, topline data, and slides from an IFIC webinar for health professionals, please click here.