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ASIAN CONSUMERS ARE READY FOR FOOD BIOTECH BENEFITS
02-October-2008 Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC) Press Release
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A consumer survey conducted by AFIC in five Asian countries shows that consumers are ready to accept benefits from biotechnology-derived foods.

Genetically modified foods will most likely become an increasing feature of the Asian diet in light of the region's growing demand for high volumes of quality food, says a survey commissioned by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC).

The survey was conducted by the Nielsen Company. It provides insights on how consumers in Asia perceive the use of biotechnology to produce foods and how likely it is consumers are accepting the various benefits biotechnology derived foods may bring. The research was conducted via an on-line survey of more than 1000 adults in China, India, Japan, Philippines and South Korea.

George Fuller, Executive Director of AFIC, commented: "This recent survey is one of the few that objectively measures opinions and perceptions of Asian consumers in relation to food biotechnology and can be considered as a benchmark for the region. An important outcome of the survey is that amidst heightened media attention on food concerns, Asian consumers have high confidence in the role food biotechnology can play for future food supply and are open-minded about the various benefits food biotech products can bring."

KEY FINDINGS

Food Biotechnology
Consumers in the food producing countries strongly believe that food biotechnology will bring benefits in the next few years: 73% of consumers in the Philippines believe biotechnology will bring benefits to them or their family in the next 5 years, followed by India (70%) and China (55%). In Japan (71%) and South Korea (45%) consumers are unsure about the future potential of biotech food.

Food Biotechnology Benefits
Consumers were positive about the broad range of potential benefits that biotechnology-derived foods can offer, expressed by a high likelihood of buying such products. The most popular benefits are country-dependant and can be linked to the dietary habits and the food sensitivities in each country.

Chinese consumers favor nutritionally enhanced soy products (82% are likely to buy such products), followed by reduced pesticides use; Indian consumers indicated freshness and taste as the most important attribute (84% are likely to by tastier and fresher GM tomatoes) followed by less expensive foods; in the Philippines less expensive food such as rice is popular (98% likelihood) followed by products such as healthier cooking oil (reduced in saturated and trans fats). Korean consumers favor cooking oil and foods with a healthier oil profile, respectively 66% and 65% of the consumers indicate they are likely to buy such products. In Japan, freshness and taste are the most preferred benefits.

Food Biotechnology and Sustainability
Although most Asian consumers are not familiar with the concept of 'sustainable food production', once the concept is explained a majority of the consumers believe sustainable food production is
important. Asian consumers also largely accept plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to a more sustainable way of producing foods.

More than 90% of the consumers surveyed in China, India and the Philippines support food production using plant biotechnology if the technology contributes to sustainable food production. In Japan and South Korea, where local agricultural production is less important and where consumers are more dependant on imported foods, at least two thirds of those surveyed accept the technology in relation to sustainability.

Food and Biotech Labeling
The most important information consumers in Asia look for on food labels is expiry date.

Presence of biotechnology-derived ingredients is not a labeling demand.

None of those interviewed in China, India, Philippines and Japan suggested the presence of biotechnology-derived ingredients as an additional item to be included on labels. In South Korea, a small number of consumers (3% of total respondents) mentioned biotechnology contents as information to be added on labels.

"The results of this survey are encouraging for the further development of food biotechnology in Asia since they indicate that consumers are willing to accept the benefits that food biotech products can bring", says Professor Paul Teng of the National Sciences and Science Education, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. "The new generation of biotechnology crops has the potential to deliver foods with nutritional benefits and these foods should be made available to Asian consumers."

According to Professor Paul Teng, another important outcome of the survey is the acceptance by consumers in major food producing countries like China and India of food biotechnology to increase the production of food staples and to supply sustainable food. The rapid growth in population and standard of living in many Asian countries will lead to a higher demand for quality foods and agricultural practices will have to adjust in order to secure food to all.

Summary from the U.S. Food Biotechnology Consumer Attitudes Survey
The results from the survey in Asia are in many ways comparable to the preliminary results of a similar survey soon to be released by the International Food Information Council in the U.S. For example, crops produced through biotechnology do not generate a high level of concern in the U.S., with most consumers either favorable or neutral towards the technology. Consumers also expressed a high likelihood of buying products produced through biotechnology that have potential benefits. In addition, most Americans support U.S. policy, which does not require labeling for such foods except in special situations. When asked about sustainability, U.S. consumers believe it to be important and indicated that growing more food to feed the global population is the most important reason for sustainable food production.

To access the summary report 'Consumer Perceptions of Food Biotechnology in Asia: 2008 consumer survey',
click here.

For more information, please contact info@afic.org.


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For more information visit the Asian Food Information Centre websit at www.afic.org.

About US: Asian Food Information Center is a Singapore registered not-for-profit organization. Its mission is to effectively communicate science-base information on food safety, nutrition and health information to media, regulators, food/health professionals, and consumers in the Asia region. For more information please go to www.afic.org.

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