CHICAGO -- Unlike their European counterparts, U.S. consumers have little interest in biotech issues and may eventually embrace food made from genetically altered ingredients once they learn more about them, said Thomas Hoban, professor of sociology and food science at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.
"This is not a top-of-mind issue in the U.S., and most people are quite happy with what is on the food label," he said in a seminar presentation at the recent SNAXPO show here, which was put on by the Snack Food Association, Alexandria, Va. Recent studies have shown that while three-quarters of consumers want nothing added to their food labels, only 1% or 2% said they want information about biotechnology, he said.
The next generation of biotech food products may well be preferred by consumers because of improved taste, aroma and texture; longer shelf life; improved nutritional quality; removal of allergens; and increased health-promoting properties, he said. "Ultimately, we will see the benefits [of biotech] being promoted," he told SN after the presentation.
For example, biotechnology has been developed that can result in french fries that absorb 30% less oil. Also, the potential exists to replace hydrogenated oil in snack foods, he said.
"The next generation of products really should be exciting for consumers and for the food companies," he added.
Meanwhile, businesses and organizations have been created around the anti-biotech movement, he noted. "Some people stand to benefit from keeping the controversy alive.There are companies right now making a lot of money doing identity preservation and testing. There are a lot of companies here that are trying to sell you GM-free corn products and things like that," Hoban said.
Supermarkets have become the targets of convenience for these activists, he said. "The reason the supermarkets caught some of the initial flak is because the activists know that's where consumers have the most direct contact with the food supply. They also know that supermarkets are very cautious. They don't want to get involved in anything that is going to get their name in the paper in an adverse way," Hoban said.