According to a recent survey conducted by the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI), a majority of U.S. consumers, who are aware of agricultural biotech and genetically modified foods, are supportive of the technology.

In the study, a total of 2,010 interviews were conducted among a national random sample of adults between Nov. 1-17, 2001. The estimated margin of error is plus or minus 2.2% at the 95% confidence level. The council has been tracking consumer attitudes since March 2000.

For the first time, a majority of U.S. consumers (51%) are aware that foods produced through biotechnology are in supermarkets, a 9-point increase since the council first began tracking consumer attitudes. Awareness that food is in stores also is at an all-time high among the group identified as gatekeepers (41% in November versus 30% in March 2000) and opinion leaders (71% in November and 57% in March 2000). Gatekeepers are women under 50 who do not have a four-year college degree and opinion leaders include men and women with a four-year college degree who pay attention to news.

The survey shows that the public perceptions of the benefits of plant biotechnology remain strong. Overall, consumers believe that biotechnology can help feed the world (72 %), produce hardier crops (66%), produce healthier foods (57%) and allow farmers to use fewer pesticides (51%).

For the first time, CBI surveying shows a majority of consumers (54%) feel the benefits of plant biotechnology outweigh the risks. The survey shows the greatest shift in attitudes among gatekeepers. In August 2001, only 38% of gatekeepers felt the benefits outweigh the risks, while the number jumped to 51% in November.

A majority also believe that biotechnology in farming will be good for society in the long run, including 60% of consumers in general (up 10 points from March 2000), 55% of gatekeepers (up 13 points) and 65% of opinion leaders (a strong majority of whom have always agreed with the statement).

The November survey shows no change among consumers' overall willingness to buy genetically modified foods. Among gatekeepers, the November survey shows an increasingly positive and steady trend. In March 2000, gatekeepers preferred not to buy GM foods by a 17-point margin (57% would not versus 40% who would). The November survey shows the margin narrowed (50% would not versus 47% who would).

“CBI's communication efforts reached out to the gatekeeper for the first time in 2001 in an attempt to create more awareness about the safety and benefits of biotech crops and foods in this critical audience,” said CBI Executive Director Linda Thrane. “Their positive response to the information is consistent with what our research has repeatedly demonstrated: That the more people know about biotechnology, the more they support it.”

Other studies, however, have consistently shown large majorities in favor of requiring labeling for foods containing genetically modified ingredients — something the biotechnology industry and most producer groups have strongly opposed, though many say they accept voluntary labeling.