U.S. companies tout benefits of biotech products
Tue Apr 11, 2006 6:26pm ET
CHICAGO, April 11 (Reuters) - U.S. food and seed companies plan to educate farmers and other customers about the benefits of genetically modified crops and animals, as part of their strategy to win marketplace acceptance for new products developed through biotechnology.
Many countries have banned food that is developed with biotechnology amid worries of possible dangers for human health and the environment. This has limited the market for the disease-resistant crops.
Demonstrating that the products have health or economic benefits is the best way to show off the results of biotechnology enhanced foods, experts said at a biotechnology industry conference here. They listed benefits including disease resistant crops and new developments in biotechnology that allow for the production of oils with better fat content.
"As people begin to see benefits they can identify with personally, they become more and more accepting," said David Dzisiak, commercial leader for global oils at Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical Co .
Dzisiak said selling genetically modified crops was like introducing any other type of technology to consumers.
Although genetically modified crops have been on the market for 10 years, there is still a lot of confusion in the U.S. marketplace about them, according to a study by the International Food Information Council.
Some U.S. consumers are aware of biotechnology being used to develop products that end up in their supermarkets but most do not know which products specifically use the technology. The U.S. government does not require labeling of biotech products.
The industry's initial plans for an educational effort are narrowly focused on farmers and other direct users of the technology. These are the customers the companies must win over before the new genetically engineered crops can get to consumers at the grocery shelves.
Any vocal resistance to genetically modified crops could postpone adoption of the products in the country.
Despite success with genetically modified corn and soybeans, producers will be wary of planting new biotech crops unless doing so can improve their bottom line.
"You've got to solve a problem, you've got to increase production, you've got to decrease costs enough to deliver a truly unique result," said Nancy Hood of Integer Group, which helps farming groups develop marketing strategies. "If you don't have that, you are going to face an uphill battle all the way across the farm."
Education does not always lead to acceptance of new products. In Europe, where awareness of genetic engineering is greater than in the United States, resistance to biotechnology is stronger, said Mickey Gjerris, assistant professor at the Danish Center for Bioethics and Risk Assessment.
"There's no evidence that the more people know, the more they love biotechnology," Gjerris said.
Gjerris said proponents of genetically modified products need to start a dialogue with consumers, listening to their concerns instead of just providing them with research and claims of benefits.
After a fair and open dialogue, most consumers, even those who had expressed reservations about the products, will accept the results of the debate and the regulations surrounding the issue, Gjerris added.
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