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Public Opinion

Over the past few years, news coverage of scientific breakthroughs, documentaries, governmental policy announcements, advertising and word of mouth have contributed to a better understanding of how plant biotechnology might be used to feed a growing world population, protecting the environment and improving nutrition.
See Chart 1

Opinion polls show that Americans are increasingly more aware of the benefits of plant biotechnology. The chart above indicates people feel biotechnology can benefit agriculture and enhance the food supply.

Even as public awareness of plant biotechnology continues to grow, Americans are still only beginning to form solid opinions about biotechnology. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that people are receptive to information about the science of biotechnology and likely resulting benefits, and that information is helping shape positive opinion and support.

Surveys demonstrate that the more people learn about biotechnology, the more apt they are to support the science. The chart to the left demonstrates this relationship and shows that of those who have heard some or a lot about biotechnology, seven out of 10 approve using biotechnology to develop better crops, and a majority support its use to develop better foods.
See Chart 2


Even as consumers grow more aware of the benefits and safety of biotechnology, survey results consistently show they would perceive government-mandated labels identifying biotech foods to be a safety warning. Surveys also show that such labels would discourage people from buying those products.
See Chart 3

Tracking polls conducted for the Alliance for Better Foods and the International Food Information Council have asked consumers what they would do if a biotech label appeared on a food or food product they usually buy. Typically, at least half of the respondents say they would no longer buy foods bearing the label. An Alliance tracking poll conducted in February 2000 showed that 57 percent of consumers would interpret the label "may contain genetically modified ingredients" as a warning.

However, polls also show that people are not clamoring for a biotech label on foods developed through biotechnology. When an open-ended question is asked about what should be on a food label, only two percent of respondents identify biotechnology.

The implication regarding public support for labeling of biotech foods is that people do not currently want a label and that any such label would be regarded as a safety warning despite ample scientific evidence that foods developed through biotechnology are no less safe foods developed through traditional means.