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CU Poll: Two-Thirds of Organic Foods Consumers Concerned with Genetically Engineered Contamination

March 2, 2010

Consumers Union Poll: Two-Thirds of Organic Foods Consumers Concerned with Genetically Engineered Contamination
Results Contradict USDA’s Position That Consumers Don’t Care 
Public Comment on Draft USDA Environmental Impact Statement on Genetically Engineered Alfalfa Due March 3

Yonkers, NY–Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, today released new poll data showing that two-thirds of organic food consumers are concerned about genetically engineered (GE) ingredients contaminating organic food.  Given the popularity of alfalfa sprouts among health-oriented eaters, Consumers Union urges the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to consider the overwhelming consumer concern before deciding to allow GE alfalfa on the market. USDA has until Wednesday, March 3 to receive public comment on its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on approval of GE alfalfa. The poll results can be found online at http://greenerchoices.org/pdf/OrganicFood Poll_Public Release_Feb 2010.pdf.
“USDA’s draft EIS is inadequate, leaving farmers and consumers unprotected.  This alfalfa has been engineered to allow herbicides to be used on it that would normally kill the crop. The EIS states that consumers and organic farmers don’t care if their organic food is GE contaminated,” said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist with Consumers Union.  “Consumers Union’s poll states the exact opposite: consumers care greatly.”
In 2006, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued USDA on behalf of farmers and others regarding its approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa, saying that USDA should have prepared an EIS.  CFS won and USDA was required to prepare a full EIS analyzing the impact of approving GE alfalfa on the environment, farmers, and the public.  While USDA prepared the EIS, Monsanto appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which will hear the case later this year. In the meantime, farmers are in limbo about the legality of planting GE alfalfa this spring.  
The Consumers Union poll found:

  • A majority of respondents expressed some level of concern with genetic engineering contamination of organic food crops. Overall, 58% said they were extremely concerned, very concerned or somewhat concerned with this contamination. 
  • Two-thirds (66%) of consumers who purchase organic food indicated being concerned versus half (50%) of those who don’t make organic food purchases.

“Genetically engineered corn and soy are widely grown in the U.S. and organic farmers and processors are having a very hard time keeping it out of organic food and animal feed, where it is prohibited.  Allowing GE alfalfa on the market will create a whole new set of problems for the organic industry in maintaining organic integrity.  Once an engineered variety is grown outside, it is almost impossible to contain it,” said Dr. Hansen. “We are also concerned that there is no FDA safety approval process for GE foods–companies may consult with FDA, but it is up to the companies themselves to decide if an engineered food is safe.”
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,015 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place over February 4-7, 2010. The sampling error is +/- 3.1% at a 95% level.

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Dr. Michael Hansen, 914.378.2452
Naomi Starkman, 917.539.3924