As I have written about ad nauseum, there is a significant lack of understanding by American consumers about biotechnology in their food. This lack of understanding has caused major problems for the food industry and is even behind the current fight over how food products should be labeled. This lack of consumer understanding is pervasive in other nations and is having a major impact of U.S. trade policy.
China is the largest economy in the world and a major customer for U.S. soybeans. Yet, Chinese consumers are skeptical about the safety of U.S. soybeans that contain biotech traits. A recent delegation of U.S. soybean producers went to China for the explicit purpose of trying to explain to the Chinese that U.S. biotech beans are safe. They were shocked by the level of misunderstanding many in China have about U.S. GMO crops.
Doug Winter, a soybean producer from Mill Shoals, IL, said many Chinese consumers thought U.S. consumers did not eat GMO foods, but simply shipped them other nations. He stated, “I had to explain to them that U.S. farmers eat the products they produce, feed them to their families and that there have been no adverse health effects after over 20 years of widespread use.” He told reporters in a media call from China that this came as a real revelation to many in China. It is the lack of public support for biotechnology in China that has allowed their government to drag its feet in the approval of traits in soybeans and corn imports.
Another issue that the farmers found resonates well with foreign consumers and buyers is sustainability. Nations that depend on the U.S. for a portion of their food supply want the assurance that we can be a reliable supplier. Biotechnology helps farmers be more sustainable.
But, are we making any progress in educating consumers on biotechnology? Monte Peterson with the U.S. Soybean Export Council says yes, but it is a slow process. He said having U.S. farmers travel the world and talk directly with foreign consumers and buyers is a great way to build a good trading relationship and also to help build understanding about biotechnology and the safe and sustainable way we produce food.
By Gary Truitt