GENTECH archive 8.96-97

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Survey Shows Americans Want Labels On Genetically Altered Foods



SURVEY SHOWS AMERICANS WANT LABELS ON GENETICALLY ALTERED FOODS

BOSTON, Massachusetts, Feb. 25'97 (ENS) - Most Americans want foods that
are genetically altered to be clearly identified with labels. Ninety-three
percent of Americans who responded to a recent survey by the world's
largest agribusiness company agree that bioengineered food should be
labeled as such, including 73% who strongly agree with this position.

Bioengineering is viewed by many people surveyed as a desirable alternative
to increased use of chemical pesticides, but more than half (54%) prefer
organic farming to either of the other choices.

Dr. Wolfgang Samo, head of agribusiness at the Swiss-based firm Novartis,
commissioned the study. He offered some of the "key top-line results" of
this survey Monday at the first International Conference on Regulation of
Crop Protection and its Implication for the Food Supply, sponsored by Tufts
University and the Foundation for Nutritional Advancement. The full report
will be released at a later date.

* One-third (32%) of the respondents say they are familiar with the
bioengineering of food; one third (35%) say they know little about it and
another third (33%) claim to know nothing at all about the subject.

* Regardless of levels of awareness, one quarter (25%) say they have a
positive feeling about bioengineering of food while 17% have negative
feelings on the subject. 58% are either neutral (37%) or unsure (21%).

* A majority (61%) believe that the use of bioengineering in agriculture is
very common (14%) or somewhat common (47%).

* Seven in ten (71%) feel that bioengineered food is very safe (21%) or
somewhat safe (50%) while just 15% think such food is unsafe. In contrast,
a majority (54%) feel that food produced with the use of chemical
pesticides is unsafe.

* Only one quarter (25%) would be less likely to buy a food product
because it is bioengineered while 13% would be more likely to buy such a
product and 56% say it would make no difference.

* Nearly all (93%) agree that bioengineered food should be labeled as
such, including 73% who strongly agree with this position.

* Given the choice of greater reliance on bioengineering, pesticides or
organic farming to produce an adequate food supply in the future, a
majority (54%) prefer organic farming, compared with 25% who would prefer
more bioengineering and 10% who think we should rely more on the use of
pesticides.

* Assuming equal levels of effectiveness, Americans prefer the use of
bioengineering over the use of pesticides to increase crop production and
protection by a margin of seven to one (73% to 11%).

* While 69% think pesticides are overused in agriculture, only
2% feel that way about bioengineering.

* Just one in four (25%) knows that the government regulates
bioengineering in agriculture, and among those a majority (62%) think that
the amount of federal regulation is about right (34%) or too much (28%).

* Asked to choose among various groups that might regulate the
bioengineering of food, 30% prefer consumer groups for this role, followed
by 19% who prefer "university scientists". About equal numbers prefer
regulation by the "agricultural industry" (16%), company scientists (15%)
and the federal government (15%).

In general, to me as a European, these results were far more favorable to
bioengineering than I had anticipated even in the United States," Dr. Samo
commented. "It is axiomatic in the field of public opinion that ignorance
breeds skepticism and negativity. This survey shows familiarity with
bioengineering to be higher than might be expected and, even among those
unfamiliar with it, a high degree of open-mindedness."

Dr. Samo did not identify the company that conducted the questioning, the
number of people sampled or the date the survey was done.

Based in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis is the world's largest agribusiness,
chemical and pharmaceutical firm. It was formed in December 1996 through
the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz.

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