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New survey dupes consumers with empty promises of biotech food

The International Food Information Council (IFIC) 2010 “Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology” survey found that consumers support the use of food biotechnology when it makes food taste better, eliminates trans fats, reduces pesticide applications, increases healthful fats like omega-3s and increases food production.

But does biotech actually deliver on these promises?

From the get-go, it’s clear that not many of the 750 respondents are well-versed in biotechnology. Sixty-six percent have read or heard “a little” or “nothing at all” about biotech. Only 7 percent have heard “a lot.”

And if the survey becomes respondents only source of information on biotech, they’d get a very biased view. The survey casts biotech only in a positive light and asks only about potential beneficial attributes of biotech and never brings up detrimental effects.

The survey defines animal biotechnology as “the science of improving the health and quality of farm animals (i.e. cows, pigs, chickens, etc.) through the use of a variety of scientific techniques and technologies in breeding and processing.” Genetic engineering is defined as a “form of animal biotechnology that allows for the transfer of beneficial traits from one animal to another in a precise way that allows for improved nutritional content or less environmental impact.” Then the survey asks what people think of the technologies. Well, I like them too when they’re defined that way!

In the survey, 51 percent were “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” to the promise of biotechnology increasing crops to help meet food demand. Seventy-seven percent of consumers would be likely to purchase foods produced through biotechnology for their ability to reduce pesticide use.

What the survey doesn’t convey in its leading, slanted questions (and perhaps that’s the point) is that so far these are empty promises. Biotech has not delivered. GE crops have largely failed to increase crop yield, and farmers actually use more pesticides over the past 13 years as a result of planting GE seeds.

I for one would be curious if consumers would be as supportive if they had to weigh a pro against a con. Would they favor a biotech food that had more omega-3s if growing the food used more land, water, and/or pesticides? That type of question, I think, would be more instructive.

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