Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Consumers Confused by New Food Technologies

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Consumers Confused by New Food Technologies

Article excerpt

The American public remains in the dark about new food-enhancing technologies, a recent survey shows. CMF & Z Marketing Communications' Eighth Annual Food Safety Survey reveals that most consumers surveyed were uncertain about several food-related terms that have surfaced in the last few years.

The survey measures consumer attitudes on a wide range of food safety issues. CMF & Z conducts the survey to assist its agriculture and food industry clients in identifying emerging issues and trends in food safety.

Consumers were asked to define several food-related terms, including "biotechnology," "irradiation," "functional foods," and "genetically modified organism (GMO)." The survey revealed that most consumers were uncertain about the terms.

For example, almost 40 percent of respondents said they could not define "biotechnology." Seventeen percent defined it as "involving genetic alterations or engineering," and fewer than 10 percent correctly said that it "involved an altered or enhanced product."

Scant Understanding of GMOs

Although more consumers were able to define "genetically modified organism" than were able to define other terms tested in the study, only 29 percent of consumers responded correctly that GMOs have been subject to a change in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Twenty-three percent could not define GMO at all, and nearly 50% offered definitions that were vague or incorrect.

Functional Foods Draw a Blank

Consumers appeared to be less knowledgeable about functional foods than any of the other terms. Virtually no respondent could correctly identify the term. A majority, 51 percent of those surveyed, did not know that a functional food is a food containing potential health benefits beyond the traditional nutrients they provide. Eleven percent responded that functional foods are foods necessary to survive. Other responses included "healthy food," "foods that are easy to make," and "foods in the basic food groups."

"This and other research tells us that consumers are largely unaware of advances in food technologies," said Dr. Thomas Hoban, Professor of Sociology and Food Science at North Carolina State University. "In fact, many modern consumers think their food comes from the grocery store or restaurant. They rarely think about how it gets there."

"The good news is that most consumers are actually quite positive about new food technologies once they understand the benefits and are confident that the foods are safe," Hoban says. …

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