24 Jan 2009

Consumers in Asia ready for benefits of biotechnology derived foods

Consumers in Asia, especially India, China, Philippines are ready to accept the benefits of biotechnology derived foods, according to a consumer survey by the Asian Food Information Centre (AFIC).

The Asia region resource centre on nutrition, health and food safey has concluded that biotech foods will likely become an increasing and well accepted feature of the Asian diet in the light of the region's grwoing demand for high volumes of food.

Currently, the only genetically modified (GM or biotech) crop grown commercially in India is Bt Cotton but the government's policy leans towards bigger use of biotech food crops in the near future.

Field and other levels of trials are already on vis a vis a range of biotech crops including Bt brinjal, okra etc.

In 2008, the government simplified, for biotech companies, the currently multi-level and complex trials made mandatory thus far before a biotech crop can come to field trials.

Officially, though, the sceintific establishment has plumped for hybrids over biotech in food crops in the last few decades.

That notwithstanding, the AFIC survey "Consumer Perception on Acceptance of biotech Food in Asia", conducted by Nielsen across five Asian countries inlcuding Idnia, Japan, China, Philippines and S Korea, has found that in India, a significant 95% of consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production; 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food such as tastier tomato, cheaper food staples adn foods/cooking oil with a healthier fat profile: more confident with food safety levels in the country, vis a vis other Asian countries surveyed.

The survey also contends that 70% of Indians strongly believe that food biotechnology will bring benefits in the next few years whiel 68% are sastified with the information provided on food labels. 70% of consumes surveyed, it said, had a neutral or favourable impression of biotech use in food production.

The AFIC survey has also maintained that that Asian consumers, unlike EU and US consumers, ranked expiry date as the "most important" information lookoed for while reading food labelsand that they did not perceive the presence of biotech ingredients as an additional labelling item.

"Food biotechnology is not a priority food safety concern among consumers. Teh important concerns are pesticide residues, food poisoning, food from unknown source and improper handling of food," the AFIC contended in a statement.

The survey itself maintains " Asian consumers rated reducing the amount of pesticides needed to produce food, foolowed by increasing the production of food staples in the world, thereby reducing world hunger, as the most important crop production factors related to sustainable food production."

Accordign to Dr George Fuller, ED of the AFIC " It is encouraign to note that 84% of Indians are ready to purchase biotech food to experience its benefits and are the most confident with the food safety levels in the country, vis a vis Asian counterparts. This is good news for India, as the government considers crop biotechnolgoy as the strategic element to increase productivity of food. "

In additin to the findings from India, the survey findings from China contends that while 94% of Chinese consumers support plant biotechnology related to sustainable food production.

The level stands at 92% in Philippines, 71% in S Korea and a much lower 67% in Japan. 82% of the Chinese consumers surveyed preferred nutritionally enhanced soy products, while 98% of those surveyed in the Philippines preferred rice and biotech cooking oil with reduced saturated and transfats.

Korean consumers surveyed favoured cooking oil and foods with a healthier oil profile while in Japan, freshness and taste were the most preferred qualities looked for in food.

The survey said that Philippines and Chinese consumers surveyed were also confident with the safety levels in their country. Ironically, biotech experts worldwide have maintained that safety in biotech foods is the key focus in this, the second decade of its existence worldwide.


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