US consumers favor GM crops to curb pesticides - survey

January 11, 2000
Reuters Houston

Nearly three-fourths of American consumers would support genetically modified crops if the technology means farmers can reduce pesticide use, according to a survey released Tuesday by the American Farm Bureau.

The private survey was commissioned at a time when some environmental groups have followed the lead of Europe and are pressing U.S. policymakers to tighten regulation of biotech crops because they say not enough is known about the long-term effects on human health.

Farm and food industry groups contend that the new technology improves crop yields and reduces the amount of chemicals needed to prevent insect and bacterial damage.

Some 1,002 consumers were interviewed for the survey in July and August, with the majority indicating they had heard more about the drawbacks of biotechnology rather than benefits.

More than half said they would support gene-altered corn, soybeans, squash and other crops if the technology would improve the taste and nutritional value of foods.

Some 73 percent of consumers surveyed favored biotech crops if they would help farmers cut back on pesticides.

"This research shows that many of us in agriculture have miscalculated where consumers' most pronounced concerns exist," said Jay Poole, vice president of agriculture for Philip Morris Cos Inc.

Philip Morris, which owns Kraft, Oscar Mayer, Post and Miller food brands, helped fund the survey.

Consumers also said they were willing to pay higher prices and have a smaller selection of foods in grocery stores if that would help reduce farm pesticide use.

"Some of these results really surprised us," said Dean Kleckner, president of the American Farm Bureau, which released the survey results at its annual meeting in Houston.

"It's clear that the agricultural industry has not done a good job educating consumers about the benefits of pesticide use. It's important we don't make the same mistake with biotechnology and other new farming practices."

A related survey, conducted at the same time, asked 704 U.S. farmers to assess how well they have explained the benefits of biotechnology to consumers. Some 71 percent of farmers surveyed said they had done a fair or poor.

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