IFIC Remarks to the American Medical Association House of Delegates Reference Committee E (Science and Technology) on Council of Science and the Public Health Report 2 - Labeling of Bioengineered Food

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

Kimberly Reed, Senior Vice President, International Food Information Council, and
Executive Director, International Food Information Council Foundation

Prepared Remarks to the American Medical Association
House of Delegates Reference Committee E (Science and Technology) on
Council of Science and the Public Health Report 2 – Labeling of Bioengineered Food

Chicago, IL

June 17, 2012

Thank you for allowing me to testify today on behalf of the International Food Information Council (IFIC), a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, whose mission is to effectively communicate science-based information on food safety and nutrition issues to health professionals, journalists, educators and government officials.

IFIC was founded 27 years ago as a science-based organization, and it is from a science-based point of view that I appear before you today regarding the American Medical Association’s position on labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. Our extensive consumer research on perceptions of biotechnology has shown that consumers support the current U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy on labeling foods produced using biotechnology.

We have conducted consumer research on perceptions of biotechnology almost annually since 1997, as part of the IFIC 2012 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology and Sustainability” Survey (formerly the “IFIC Survey of Consumer Attitudinal Trends toward Food Biotechnology”). The 2012 Survey shows that Americans remain highly supportive of existing federal rules for labeling foods produced through biotechnology and very few cite biotechnology as an information need on the food label.

The 2012 Survey explored U.S. consumers’ perceptions of various aspects of plant and animal biotechnology, as well as sustainability and new and emerging technologies such as nanotechnology. The Survey gauged perceptions among 750 adults representative of the U.S. population and was weighted by education level, income, race, age, gender, geographic region and marital status. The results may be reported at a 95% confidence level.

There were several key findings from the 2012 Survey we thought would be of interest to your delegates regarding labeling of foods produced through biotechnology:

1. Sixty-nine percent of consumers are confident in the safety of the U.S. food supply, consistent since 2007.

2. When asked what, if anything, they are concerned about when it comes to food safety, 29% of consumers cite disease or contamination concerns, and 21% mention handling or preparation. Consumers cite several other issues; however, only 2% mention biotechnology, telling us that biotechnology is a not top of mind concern for consumers.

3. Fifty-three percent of Americans state that they are avoiding certain foods or ingredients, with sugars/carbs and fats/oils/cholesterol topping the list. However, biotech foods are not mentioned.

4. When asked if they can think of any information not on food labels that they would like to see added, only 24% of Americans can think of anything, and only 3% of those (less than 1% of the total sample) cite anything related to biotechnology.

5. We provided a description of FDA’s food labeling policy with regards to biotech foods and asked consumers to state their level of support for the policy. The description read: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires special labeling when a food is produced under certain conditions: when biotechnology's use substantially changes the food’s nutritional content, like vitamins or fat, or its composition; or when a potential safety issue is identified. Otherwise, special labeling is not required.” 66% of consumers state that they support this policy. Only 14% oppose the policy, and 20% hold neutral views of the policy.

The Executive Summary and topline data from the 2012 Survey may be viewed on the www.foodinsight.org website.

The findings from this 2012 Survey, which is our 15th survey and was fielded in March 2012, also support the following American Medical Association Recommendations as contained in Policy H-480.958 “Genetically Modified Crops and Foods,” as stated in its Report of the Council on Science and Health (CSAPH), Report 2-A-12 regarding Labeling of Bioengineered Foods:

 “(3) Our AMA believes that as of June 2012, there is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineered foods, as a class, and that voluntary labeling is without value unless it is accompanied by focused consumer education.”
 “(7) Our AMA recognizes that the government, industry, and the scientific and medical communities have a responsibility to educate the public and improve the availability of unbiased information and research activities on bioengineered foods and of research activities.”

In addition, the FDA has stated that labeling biotech foods would be misleading if there is no other difference between the biotech and non-biotech food. FDA has taken this position at meetings of the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labelling (a Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme) for several years and has refused to agree to the adoption of a global standard of voluntary labeling, which could potentially cause consumers to omit safe, nutritious foods from their diets because they contain biotech foods or ingredients, and/or neglect other important nutrition and food safety information that appears on the label because they are focusing on the biotech labeling.

I would like to highlight that the strength of the methodology used in the 2012 IFIC Survey sets it apart from other surveys looking at food technology issues. To this point, IFIC President and CEO David B. Schmidt recently stated that “\[i\]n the public landscape, we often see polling that tries to provoke or frighten people into giving a certain desired response. We don’t believe in leading consumers to any conclusion. We believe our open-ended methodology used at the beginning of our survey provides a more accurate view of concerns on Americans’ minds, and the survey is the most objective and long-term publicly available data set on U.S. consumer attitudes toward food and agricultural biotechnology.”

In conclusion, I would like to clarify that the original purpose of the food label was to communicate important ingredient, nutrition and safety information to consumers for their health and safety. It was not intended to include every bit of information one might want to know about a food. It is clear from IFIC’s research that a strong majority of Americans support FDA’s current labeling policy for foods produced using biotechnology, which does not require special labeling unless the use of biotechnology alters the nutritional composition or introduces a safety issue, in which case labeling to describe that issue would be required.

Thank you.

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