Americans’ knowledge of genetically modified foods and animals continues to remain low, and their opinions reflect that they are particularly uncomfortable with animal cloning, according to a new survey released by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology.

The survey also shows that religious and ethical concerns play a significant role in consumer attitudes towards cloning. A majority of consumers believe that the government should include ethical and moral considerations when making regulatory decisions about cloning and GM animals.

Despite continuing concerns about GM foods, consumers do not support banning new uses of the technology, but rather seek an active role from regulators to ensure that new products are safe.

When asked about importation of foreign GM products, consumers demonstrated little awareness but clearly favor U.S. regulation.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • Overall awareness of GM foods and biotechnology is up slightly, but overall attitudes are unchanged. While nearly 61 percent of Americans say they are generally familiar with science and technology, a majority of people polled (58 percent) remain unaware of GM foods, with 41 percent saying they have heard about GM food that is sold in grocery stores. 
  • Consumers have heard little about the importation of foreign GM products, but favor U.S. regulation. The potential for importation of GM foods produced abroad is not on consumers’ radar screen. Four in five Americans (80 percent) say they have heard little or nothing about importation of GM foods. Even so, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) oppose the importation of GM foods, including a majority (52 percent) who express strong opposition. In addition, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of consumers surveyed strongly favor ensuring that foreign producers face the same level of regulation that American producers face.
  • Americans claim to have heard about animal cloning – and are uncomfortable with it. The majority of people polled (65 percent) claims to have heard about animal cloning, compared to 41 percent of the public who have heard of GM foods, 34 percent who are familiar with GM animals, and less than one in five Americans (18 percent) who are familiar with the potential importation of GM foods.  Sixty-six percent of American consumers polled indicated that they are largely uncomfortable with animal cloning. In addition, less than a quarter (23 percent) of consumers believe food produced from animal clones is safe, while 43 percent believe it is unsafe; and one-third (34 percent) of consumers do not have an opinion on the safety of animal cloning.
  • Consumers most strongly support GM uses that are designed to protect against disease. Although most Americans oppose genetically modifying or cloning animals, the most widely favored uses are those that offer direct human benefits, including producing chickens resistant to avian flu (40 percent “very good reason”) or producing cattle resistant to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (40 percent “very good reason.)”
  • Consumers strongly believe that ethical and moral considerations should be part of the animal cloning regulatory equation. A strong majority (63 percent) of Americans believe government agencies should include moral and ethical considerations when making regulatory decisions about cloning and genetically modifying animals, with 53 percent feeling that way strongly.

You can review a summary of the findings from the survey, at: http://pewagbiotech.org/research/2005update/.

 PEW Institute