What Do Americans Know about Biotechnology?
Tuesday, September 19, 2000
A public survey by BIO, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, reveals the knowledge of biotechnology and the associations connected to it.
Those charged with the marketing, development and communication of agricultural biotechnology products might feel blasted by a firestorm of
media. It seems that every magazine from Cooking Light to Mademoiselle and Time has managed to cover this "controversial" news topic this year. Many reporters seem to almost plaintively bemoan the fact that Americans don`t hold the same semi-hysterical perspective of some Europeans who stridently oppose the acceptance of biotech foods.
So it is ironic to note that for the general public, the word "biotechnology" has little, if any meaning. Biotechnology, by any definition, is not top of mind for most consumers according to a recent study by the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI). In fact, 1 out of 5 consumers admit they have never even heard the word. Seventy percent in total have heard "something" and 12 percent have "heard a lot." Those
most familiar with the terminology tend to be college graduates, and those
in rural communities.
When asked to name different types of technology that affect how people live, computers ranked highest (62 percent), followed by the internet (22
percent), health technologies (7 percent) and biotechnology associated with genetic engineering or modification at only three percent, on a par
with automotive technologies.
When asked what comes to mind when they hear the word biotechnology, people are far more likely to mention health applications than those of food and agriculture. Although 12 percent say they think of "genetic modification" and "genetic engineering" there was only a 2 percent to 4
percent linkage with food and agriculture.
The poll was conducted concurrent with BIO 2000 when there was widespread news coverage of biotechnology, including extensive coverage of protests and demonstrators. At that time 27 percent said yes to having heard or seen biotech stories in the news. Of that group, most recalled stories involving genetically altered plants and foods, and one in five recalled
protests and controversy.
Benefits of biotechnology
Most importantly, researchers found that a higher level of awareness and understanding of biotech issues resulted in greater support for the
technology. This validates the work of industry to continue to share information about the importance of biotechnology and new developments.
Additionally, by a two to one margin, Americans agree that in the long run biotechnology will be beneficial to their families. Medical and health
applications are viewed most positively, with increased agricultural, productivity and land use following. More than half agree that biotechnology will help ensure the long-term viability of farming in this country. Consumers seem to withhold judgment on the benefits of more
nutritious food, or longer shelf life, because these products have yet to be realized.