2% of those questioned said they spontaneously check labels for the presence GM ingredients

2% of those questioned said they spontaneously check labels for the presence GM ingredients

A majority of consumers interviewed by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) confess to having little knowledge of genetically modified foods, but would still support labelling on products.

Almost nine in every ten of the consumers interviewed by the FSA said they are aware of genetically modifed (GM) foods. However, more than half admit to having "low" knowledge of the subject.

In a report that contains several contradictory answers from consumers, 2% of those questioned said they spontaneously check labels for the presence GM ingredients, yet two thirds of respondents said GM labelling is important.

This disparity is perhaps partly explained by a defacto moratorium on GM in much of the UK food retailing sector of the past decade, following a series of health and environmental concerns raised at the turn of the Millenium.

However, the current UK government is keen to embrace GM technology as a possible way of securing the nation's food supply. Last year, Morrisons dropped its GM-free feed requirement for suppliers of poultry and eggs.

The FSA's survey comes in light of renewed government enthusiasm and also a move by the European Commission to consider implementing a European Union-wide labelling scheme for GM.

"At present, many consumers have low spontaneous needs with regard to GM labelling and do not appear to be actively seeking to avoid GM in foods by looking at labelling or other means," said the FSA.

However, it said consumers had a narrow preference for labelling the presence of GM ingredients, rather than highlighting their absence in the form of a GM-free label.

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Consumer attitudes to GM labelling

The Food Standards Agency has published findings of qualitative and quantitative research looking at consumer attitudes to the labelling of genetically modified (GM) food and the use of 'GM-free' labelling.

Key findings

The key findings of the research are:

  • Consumer awareness of the current labelling requirements is low.
  • Participants were typically not seeking information or labelling with regard to GM foods. Only 2% of participants spontaneously mentioned they looked for information about GM content when buying food products for the first time.
  • There was a slight preference for labelling indicating the presence of GM, rather than labelling indicating the absence of GM.
  • Labelling foods to indicate the absence of GM ingredients can result in a number of expectations. For example, participants expected a product labelled as ‘GM-free’ to be completely free of the use of GM.
  • Participants were generally unaware of the use of GM animal feed by farmers. Once made aware of its use, they typically considered that products from animals fed GM feed should be labelled, consistent with previous FSA research.
  • The Agency commissioned this research to inform discussions within Europe about GM labelling and to ensure the UK public’s views were understood and represented.

Background

The Agency commissioned this research to inform discussions within Europe about GM labelling and to ensure the UK public’s views were understood and represented.

Some EU countries have introduced schemes where products can be labelled as 'GM-free' or 'without GM'. However, the rules of these schemes tolerate some GM materials (low level accidental presence, use of certain GM additives etc). The UK has not introduced any scheme to indicate the absence of GM. The European Commission is currently considering whether to harmonise these national schemes across Europe.

In the EU, if a food contains or consists of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or contains ingredients produced from GMOs, this must be indicated on the label. For GM products sold 'loose', information must be displayed immediately next to the food to indicate that it is GM.

Products such as flour, oils and glucose syrups have to be labelled as GM if they are from a GM source.

Products produced with GM technology (cheese produced with GM enzymes, for example) do not have to be labelled.

Products such as meat, milk and eggs from animals fed on GM animal feed do not need to be labelled.

This research was carried out by Define Research and Insight and fieldwork took place from June to September 2012.

Original source: http://www.food.gov.uk/science/research/ssres/foodsafetyss/gm-labelling/#.UO1zB3fQP7A