The benefits of biotechnology outweigh the risks. That’s what consumers are saying according to a survey conducted by the Council for Biotechnology Information.

In the study, researchers conducted 2,010 interviews from a random sample of adults across the country last November.

This is the first time that a majority of U.S. consumers (51 percent) are aware that foods produced through biotechnology are now offered in supermarkets. Awareness that biotech food is in stores also is at an all-time high among the group identified as gatekeepers (41 percent vs. 30 percent in a March 2000 survey) and opinion leaders (71 percent in 2001 and 57 percent in 2000). Gatekeepers are categorized as women less than 50 years old who do not have a four-year college degree, opinion leaders include men and women with a four-year college degree who pay attention to news.

In addition, public perceptions of biotechology’s benefits remain strong. Overall, consumers believe that biotechnology can help feed the world (72 percent), produce hardier crops (66 percent), produce more healthful foods (57 percent) and allow producers to use fewer pesticides (51 percent).

Another first is that most consumers polled (54 percent) feel the benefits of plant biotechnology outweigh the risks. The survey shows the greatest shift in attitudes among gatekeepers, jumping from 38 percent in August 2001, to 51 percent in November.

A majority also believe that biotechnology in farming will be good for society in the long run, including 60 percent of consumers in general (up 10 points from 2000), 55 percent of gatekeepers (up 13 points) and 65 percent of opinion leaders.

Although responses were positive, consumers didn’t show an increased interest in their willingness to buy genetically modified foods. Among gatekeepers, the current survey shows an increasingly positive and steady trend, with 50 percent saying they would not knowingly buy GM foods vs. 47 percent who would.

Other studies have shown that consumers favor mandatory labeling of GM foods. Both the biotechnology industry and most producer groups strongly oppose such action, favoring voluntary labeling instead.