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Biotech Foods Continue to Produce Mixed Feelings in US

Safety is a concern of many, but opinion researchers also find the public not well informed on the subject. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Americans are still split in their opinions about genetically engineered foods. The finding is from one thousand adults questioned for the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. This is a project of the University of Richmond in Virginia supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Thirty-four percent said they believed genetically modified foods are safe. Twenty-nine percent thought they are unsafe.

Support increased when people were told that most processed foods contain at least small amounts of genetically engineered organisms.

After that, forty-five percent thought the foods were safe. But twenty-nine percent still believed they were unsafe.

Only twenty-one percent said that five years ago when the project first measured public understanding and support for biotechnologies.

Genetically engineered soybeans, corn and cotton have been available to American farmers for ten years. Much of the corn and soy is fed to animals. But many foods contain genetically modified soy lecithin, corn syrup and other products.

Supporters say these foods are safe. They say genetic engineering improves crops. These versions are often designed to resist damage from insects or agricultural chemicals.

But the Pew Initiative says public understanding of biotech foods remains low. Sixty percent said they believed they had never eaten them.

The Food and Drug Administration does not require companies to identify biotech foods to the public. Forty-three percent of the people said they would feel better if the F.D.A. had more rules. Now, the agency only asks companies to consult with it about biotech foods they want to market.

Some companies market products as being free of genetically modified organisms.

This year the Pew research added questions about animal cloning. Only twenty-seven percent of those who said they had heard of it expressed comfort with the idea. Sixty-one percent said they were uncomfortable with it.

The F.D.A. says it is moving closer to permitting the sale of milk and meat from animals that are genetic copies of other animals. For now, companies are being asked to cooperate with the agency and not market such products.

Thirty-seven percent of the people said family and friends were their most trusted sources of information about biotech foods. Farmers were second, then scientists. Five years ago, the top answer was the F.D.A. Now it is fourth.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.