Awareness of Genetically Modified Foods Wide But Knowledge Inch Deep

55% Admit They Know Little About The Issue

New York, June 8, 2000 - The more North American consumers hear about genetically modified (GM) foods, the less they like them, new research from the Angus Reid Group shows. But while awareness of the issue remains high - 65 percent of Americans and 79 percent of Canadians have heard of the issue - understanding remains low.

In fact, only 4 percent of Americans and 5 percent of Canadians feel they know "a lot" about genetically modified foods. Slightly more (15 percent of Americans and 24 percent of Canadians) feel they have "some" understanding. More prevalent, however, is the feeling that they only know "a little."

More than half (54 percent) of Americans and more than two-thirds (68 percent) of Canadians want to learn more about GM foods, especially about the technology of genetic modification. Another 13 percent of Americans and 9 percent of Canadians are possibly open to learning more. (For results from six other countries, please visit the global media release

"An interesting paradox is emerging," says Joanna Karman, managing director of the company's agri-foods research division and co-author of the Angus Reid report New Thoughts for Food: Consumer Reaction to Biotechnology in Foods. "Consumers say they want to learn more about genetic modification and they need more information about the technology itself. Some are even interested in learning what benefits there are to GM foods.

"But at this point in the debate, consumers aren't yet convinced that genetically altered foods represent scientific advancement. They simply haven't made that leap yet. Most believe this issue is about health and safety. That's where we believe the debate should focus."

BENEFITS AND RISKS

About 43 percent of Americans and 41 per cent of Canadians surveyed recently by Angus Reid say that in the long run the potential benefits will outweigh the potential risks. Further, one-quarter of Americans and 29 percent of Canadians are concerned about the unknown impact or experimental nature of GM foods. About 28 percent of Americans and 32 percent of Canadians cite food safety and health concerns when asked about perceived risks. Nearly as many (25 percent of Americans and 29 percent of Canadians) say they are concerned about the unknown impact of GM foods.

Slightly more Americans (15 percent) than Canadians (9 percent) don't think there are any disadvantages associated with GM foods. Another 12 per cent of Americans and 14 percent of Canadians are unsure about any risks.

Some 20 per cent of Americans and nearly one quarter of Canadians (24 percent) expect GM foods to provide no benefits or advantages at all. The main benefits noted by about one-third of North Americans are believed to involve improved efficiency or higher yields in food production, an improvement in food quality and a reduced need for pesticides.

"Genetic modification is becoming one of the most important challenges facing the agriculture and food industries in North America," Karman says. "But given that consumers don't readily see what's in it for them personally, their reaction is, in fact, quite normal and rational. They see themselves as shouldering the risks, but not reaping the benefits. It should be no surprise that there is a pushback. Consumers are becoming less confident and less comfortable with this technology.

"In both countries, genetically modified food has become less of a science and technology issue and much more of a matter of health and safety," Karman said.

Currently the main message consumers are taking home is that GM foods are not safe, she adds. They have already begun to demand non-GM foods and are likely to continue to.

About New Thoughts for Food New Thoughts for Food is a global, syndicated study designed to provide key players in the biotechnology food debate with a better understanding of consumer perceptions of genetically modified food. For more information, please visit www.angusreid.com/services/p_agrifd.htm

Methodology Angus Reid Group Worldwide surveyed 2,001 adult consumers in both countries earlier this year, and an additional 3,000 consumers in six countries. (Findings from the global survey can be found at www.angusreid.com/MEDIA/CONTENT/displaypr.cfm? id_to_view=1039.

About Angus Reid Established in 1979, the Angus Reid Group is among the world's leading research companies, providing a full array of marketing and social research services to the private and public sectors. Founded by Dr. Angus Reid, the Angus Reid Group has conducted extensive research in 80 countries and in 40 languages and serves clients around the world through 11 offices and 300-full-time and 800 part-time staff.

Contact information:

Elen Alexov Director of Marketing Services Ipsos in North America 778.373.5136 elen.alexov@ipsos.com

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