Consumers Looking to Sustainable Food Production to Feed Global Population

Contact Info: 

Contact Matt Raymond or Jania Matthews at 202-296-6540 or media@foodinsight.org

(Washington, D.C., October 23, 2008)  As food prices soar and the need to feed more people with fewer resources becomes increasingly challenging, new International Food Information Council (IFIC) research shows more and more people are thinking about the concept of sustainable food production and its role in feeding the world.  According to IFIC’s 2008 Food Biotechnology survey, awareness of sustainable food production jumped 11 percent from 2007 to 2008 (from 30 to 41 percent).  Consumers rated “growing more food to help feed the growing global population” as the most important factor for growing crops in a sustainable manner. 

“Clearly, global food issues are on consumer’s minds,” said IFIC Senior Vice President, Danielle Schor.  “This year’s survey shows feeding the global population is a high priority and people are thinking of long lasting solutions.”

This year marks the 13th annual IFIC Food Biotechnology survey and the second year it included questions about “sustainability.”  When asked to rank 5 factors related to growing crops in a sustainable way, the factor ranked number one was “increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger,” with “reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food” coming in second.

Other areas in this national survey  included:

Plant Biotechnology

Overall favorable impression of plant biotechnology remained little changed from past years, with 84 percent of consumers having favorable or neutral impressions of using biotechnology with plants. The majority of Americans would be likely to purchase foods from plants produced through biotechnology for specific benefits.  Approximately three-fourths of consumers would be  very or somewhat likely to buy a food product made with oils that had been modified by biotechnology to avoid trans fats or to provide more healthful fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids.  

Animal Biotechnology

Following last year’s announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe, nearly half of Americans (48 percent) said they were “somewhat” or “very” likely to buy these products—similar to the result of 46 percent in 2007.  When asked how likely they would be to buy meat and milk from genetically engineered animals if the FDA determined they were safe, 65 percent said they would be likely to purchase these products, with the percentage of those “very likely” having increased significantly from 2006 (12 percent) to 2008 (17 percent).  The survey was carried out prior to FDA’s release last month of proposed guidelines on how to regulate genetically engineered animals.

Potential positive impacts of animal biotechnology continue to correlate with increased support among consumers.  Almost two-thirds of consumers (62 percent) said they had a positive impression of animal biotechnology when informed that “animal biotechnology can improve the quality and safety of food.”  More than half (52 percent) reacted positively to the statement “animal biotechnology can reduce the environmental impact of animal waste.”

Confidence in U.S. Food Supply

Despite continuing media attention and focus on food concerns, consumers’ overall confidence in the U.S. food supply remains high.  Sixty-eight percent of Americans indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” confident in the food supply compared to 69 percent last year.   Of those who listed a specific food safety concern, disease and contamination topped the list at 50 percent, a significant increase since 2007 (38 percent). Food safety issues having the lowest concern were biotechnology and processed foods, with 1 percent each.

Labeling

Satisfaction with current information on food labels remained high in 2008.  Only 14 percent of consumers mentioned information they felt was missing, with less than 1 percent specifically mentioning biotechnology. 

FDA requires special labeling only when the use of biotechnology introduces an allergen, or when it substantially changes the food’s nutritional content.  A solid majority of those polled (60 percent) “strongly” or “somewhat” support the FDA labeling requirements for food produced using biotechnology.

Summary from the Asian Food Biotechnology Consumer Attitudes Survey

The U.S. results can be compared with those of a similar survey released earlier this month by the Asian Food Information Centre (www.afic.org).  The survey commissioned by AFIC in five Asian countries—China, India, Japan, Philippines, and South Korea—shows that crops produced through biotechnology do not generate a high level of concern. In addition, although most Asian consumers are not familiar with the concept of “sustainable food production,” once the concept is explained, a majority believe sustainable food production is important and accept plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to a more sustainable way of producing foods. Asian consumers are also ready to accept nutritional benefits from biotechnology-derived foods.  However, specific benefits are linked to the dietary habits in each country.

 Methodology

IFIC commissioned Cogent Research of Cambridge, MA, to conduct the 13th in a series (1997-2008) of quantitative assessments of U.S. adult consumer attitudes toward food biotechnology from July 29 to August 18, 2008.  The survey had a sample size of 1,000 and the data were weighted on age and education to be nationally representative.

For additional information on the food biotechnology survey, or to schedule an interview with an expert please call the IFIC Media Team at 202-296-6540.