More than half of American consumers surveyed said genetically modified foods should be routinely labelled as such, even though the Food and Drug Administration believes special labels are not needed. The survey of 1,000 adults was prepared by the International Food Information Council Foundation, a group funded by food and beverage companies, which generally oppose labels on gene-spliced foods as expensive and raising unnecessary concerns in the minds of shoppers.
The food foundation said the most surprising results in the survey came from a question about whether consumers agree with the FDA's labelling position or with critics who say all biotech foods should be clearly identified as such. Some 58 percent of respondents said they agreed with critics, up from 43 percent when a similar question was used in a poll last May.
When consumers were presented with information resource alternatives to the food label in the next question, 75 percent affirm that information should be provided through toll-free numbers, brochures and Web sites instead of labelling. The food group said consumers had "mixed feelings" on the labelling issue.
The labelling issue is a crucial one for American food makers, who already face growing international pressure to identify biotech foods. Japan, South Korea and European Union members require gene-altered foods to be clearly marked so consumers know what they are buying. U.S. food makers have long maintained that bioengineered foods are safe and no different from conventional foods.
The FDA last month said it would issue voluntary guidelines for any companies that wish to use labels on biotech foods, but would not require them. The agency said that to ease consumer concerns it would ask food manufacturers to notify FDA scientists at least 120 days before marketing new biotech foods, a mandatory review that will replace what is now a voluntary consultation. The FDA also plans to publish food companies' biotech safety test results on its Internet site, but it remained unclear whether companies could request that such data be kept secret for competitive reasons.
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