Workgroup Reports and Recommendations

Chairs:

Rosetta Newsome
Director
International Food Technologists
221 N. LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60601

 

Marshall A. Martin
Director
Center for Agricultural Policy and Technology Assessment
Purdue University
1145 Krannert Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1145

[published February 1994]

Following a brief reflection on the plenary session presentations, the group considered the question of whether all biotechnology foods should be labeled. After a vote, the clear consensus of the group was that, while it is not appropriate to require uniform labeling of all products of biotechnology, some labeling of biotechnology products may be required. A further clear consensus of the group was the necessity of developing creative and informative new programs and modes of delivery to assist the public in interpreting and evaluating benefits and risks associated with specific biotechnology products.

Workgroup participants then divided into two subgroups. One subgroup, chaired by Rosetta Newsome, discussed Biotechnology Product Labels. The other, chaired by Marshall Martin, discussed Consumer Information.

 

Biotechnology Product Labels

(Chair: Rosetta L. Newsome)

Participants in this workgroup subdivided further into two subgroups to identify issues regarding product labels and to develop recommendations. Each group approached the topic differently; however upon sharing the results of their separate deliberations, the following consensus issues and recommendations were formulated.

Issues:

  1. Should all biotechnology products be labeled regardless of the specific gene, gene product or other modification introduced?
  2. What are the most appropriate mechanisms/routes to provide to the consumer information:
    1. to enhance understanding of the methods of biotechnology;
    2. to explain the properties of specific biotechnology products;
    3. to interpret information found on product labels, advertisements and point of purchase consumer information; and
    4. in general, to facilitate informed decision-making.

Recommendations:

  1. Uniform mandatory labeling of biotechnology products is not needed unless food safety or nutritional quality is at issue.
  2. Issues of food safety and nutrition can be best handled using techniques such as decision trees, which would focus attention on questions of allergies, altered nutritional value, increased toxicity, or potential unintended consequences of the genetic modification.
  3. The development of appropriate decision trees will greatly facilitate resolving questions of whether specific products require special labels.
  4. Use of decision trees will facilitate resolution of the questions raised in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) April 28, 1993 request for data and information on labeling issues (Federal Register 58 (80): 25837-25841). Specifically, they will facilitate resolution of the questions (#1-6) identified under section IIIA1(b) Required Labeling.
  5. When utilizing decision trees, the following principles should be applied uniformly to determine whether labeling of a specific biotechnology product is required:
    1. Labeling requirements should be limited to safety and nutritional issues, such as transfer of potential allergens or altered vitamin content.
    2. Based on current understanding, labeling requirements should be the same for all foods, fresh as well as processed, whether or not the food is a product of biotechnology.
    3. Labeling requirements should be determined by the consumption of the product rather than by the process by which the product was developed
    4. The source of introduced genes is not material except when it affects any safety or nutritional issue.
  6. When a label is required to provide information on a compositional change that might result from genetic engineering, material information would include: what the product contains, how much it contains, and the relationship of this composition to the average for the product.
  7. In general, voluntary labeling should be allowed, but should NOT be permitted if such labeling may be interpreted to relate to or address safety or nutritional claims or implications. Voluntary labeling may address issues such as enhanced flavor or quality, or religious concerns, if these claims can be validated as factual.
  8. It is important to develop consumer information/education material to clarify the concept that a nucleotide coding sequence (a gene) copied from the genome of a microbe, plant or animal is not inherently a microbial, plant, or animal product and does not necessarily convey microbial, plant or animal characteristics on the new host organism.
 

Consumer Information

(Chair: Marshall A. Martin)

Issues:

  1. Providing information and education on biotechnology is key whether or not labeling is required for better biotechnology products.
  2. Providing more information for informed decision making is just the beginning; there are diverse perspectives on biotechnology and its applications that must be aired and resolved.
  3. There is a need for development of long-term information and education programs by an objective, science-based organization.
  4. The “public” is a heterogeneous constituency with diverse concerns and varying levels of understanding of biotechnology, requiring diverse forms of information and a range of information channels

Participants in the group identified critical components in the design and delivery of an effective, high-impact consumer information and education program on agricultural biotechnology. Key components of the resulting model were: the source of information/programming (spokespersons), the message(s) to be delivered, the various recipients of the message (audiences), effective channels available for delivery of the message(s), and desirable responses (goals) to be produced by the program. Recommendations were then developed for implementing such a program.

Sources of information/programming; spokespersons

  • Food industry representatives or spokespersons (e.g., key opinion leaders, popular authoritative figures easily recognized by the public)
  • Members of the immediate family and relatives, including children who share what they learn at school
  • Consumer and environmental organizations
  • Private sector information groups
  • University spokespersons, extension educators, teachers
  • Government officials
  • Professional societies
  • Special interest groups
  • Physicians, other health professionals
  • Journalists (print, radio and video)
  • Farmers and 4-H leaders
  • Celebrities

Key messages

  • Technically accurate information to guide decision making
  • Product attributes (e.g., safety, quality, efficacy, utility)
  • Product benefits and costs (to individuals, to society)
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • All living creatures share a common set of chemical constituents
  • Religious, ethical and moral considerations (e.g., animal welfare, global hunger)
  • Cultural issues (e.g., environmental, animal rights/well-being, special diets, organic foods, natural order of living things)
  • Changes in the composition and nutritional value of foods
  • Sources of further information
  • Scientists are concerned individuals who try to address contemporary issues
  • Scientists have considered and evaluated potential risks of biotechnology-derived foods
  • How products are tested and regulated
  • Biotechnology provides exciting potential benefits for all of us
  • Recombinant DNA is a tool that can be used in a positive way to improve food quality and enhance environmental responsibility
  • Scientists are still learning about potential unintended attributes and the environmental fate of genetically modified organisms, thus each product must be individually evaluated on its own potential merits and risks
  • Influence of biotechnology on cost of production

Key audiences

  • Consumers, especially women
  • Journalists (print, radio, TV)
  • General education (news media, political agents, school boards, etc.)
  • Parents
  • Students in K-12 and advanced technical curricula
  • Religious communities
  • Retail grocers, restaurant owners, food industry personnel, chefs, etc.
  • Social service groups
  • Agribusiness groups, farmers
  • Legislators
  • Professionals (e.g., attorneys, health-care professionals, dietitians, nutritionists
  • Teachers
  • Community leaders
  • Key decision makers

Potential channels to deliver messages

  • Mass media (TV, radio, newspapers, magazines)
  • Extension education programs and meetings
  • Point of purchase information (e.g., signs, brochures, topical handouts)
  • Libraries, museums, fairs, exhibits
  • Brochures, brief topical handouts
  • Cooking schools, cooking academies
  • Computer assisted/multimedia presentations, interactive electronic programs, video games
  • K-12 schools
  • Third party spokespersons, opinion leaders
  • Study circles
  • Speaker’s bureau
  • Presentations to civic groups
  • "800” telephone number
  • "Captain Biotech” comics
  • Restaurant menus
  • Theme parks (e.g., Disney World)
  • Scientific meetings
  • Professional society meetings

Desired responses

  • Enhanced capacity to make an informed choice
  • Knowledge of how to gain additional information
  • Social awareness
  • Increased knowledge of technical, nutritional, food safety and socioeconomic issues, and more extensive participation in discussions
  • Changes in consumer behavior
  • Education of persons who can competently discuss issues (both technical and socioeconomic)
  • Politically and technically astute legislation

Recommendations:

General Guidelines

  1. Be proactive and outgoing rather than reactive and defensive
  2. Information about biotechnology products should be made available, whether or not labeling is required
  3. Regardless of labeling, consumer information is important
  4. Develop sensitivity to ethics and value judgments
  5. Practice principles of risk communication
  6. Identify and use existing channels and programs, and develop new ones

Framework

  1. Use a communication model as a framework for planning, coordinating and evaluating education/information programs

Logistics

  1. Evaluate/design effective pathways for various desired response loops (resource use effectiveness, scale/size of audience, detailed information)
  2. Survey audiences to get a sense of needs and wants
  3. Initiate a process for funding a coordinated network for information hearing
  4. Install and maintain an “800” number for information (e.g., 1-800-BIOTECH)
  5. Provide training to media spokespeople
  6. Provide media training to spokespeople who can speak to the benefits and science of biotechnology
  7. Develop good written materials for consumers
  8. Develop teaching materials for primary and secondary schools
  9. Visit legislators
  10. Conduct “before” and “after” surveys to measure impact of educational programs

Organization and leadership

  1. Identify core groups to implement the plan
  2. Develop grassroots network of farm, professional, university and government activists to act on or disseminate information
  3. Have a coalition of “sources” to develop messages for targeted audiences
  4. Set up a “clearinghouse” for information
  5. Private industry should fund informational programs to develop and deliver information targeted to women, special interest groups, K-12, and politicians
  6. Establish advisory board to provide oversight on educational programs, to track consumer attitudes and evaluate program effectiveness
  7. Information should be made available from a variety of sources. The message, audience and channels utilized should vary
  8. Create community, state and regional information boards to hold public meetings and seminars

Source of funding

  1. Private industry contribute to a “blind trust” which grants funds based upon proposals to evaluate the effectiveness of consumer education programs
  2. Ask the Food Marketing Institute to add biotechnology questions to annual survey
  3. Industry/government/public interest group coalition efforts
  4. Consortium of public interest groups to provide advice and guidance
  5. Main stream foundations
  6. Advertising council
  7. Government funding