Consumer attitudes trade barriers and possible legal ramifications toward biotechnology will be-the focus of the International Fresh-cut Produce Association's (IFPA) eighth Annual Technical Seminar titled "Biotechnology: Friend or Foe?" on Oct. 2-3, 2000, in Monterey, Calif.

Devon Zagory, Ph.D., senior vice president, food safety and quality programs at Davis Fresh Technologies says many scientists and food leaders have been heralding the benefits of biotechnology and have given little attention to the concerns of consumers. "Before-the produce industry can determine how to most effectively utilize and market biotechnology, it is essential the industry understand the consumer's point-of-view."

Zagory says most expressed concerns fall under one of the following categories: (1) environmental hazards such as the possibility of herbicide-resistant weeds, (2) health risks such as possible allergens; and (3) religious or dietary concerns about possible animal genes in a specific product.

Christine Bruhn, director, Center for Consumer Research, UC Davis, says that despite some questions regarding the new technology, research shows a majority of U.S. consumers are positive about biotechnology.

"They particularly favor biotechnology when they learn that it can be used as an alternative to, pesticide," Bruhn said. However, she says that some consumers still are wary about the environmental effects and the possible impact it can have on other species that come into contact with the genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

In Europe, the perspective is much different, adds Bruhn, which she believes has much to do with the public confidence in regulatory bodies. She says recent research showed that in the U.S., 80 percent of the public has confidence in U.S. regulatory bodies compared to only four percent of the Europeans who trust their regulatory agencies.

Tom Redick, attorney, Capin, Shea, McNitt and Carter, warns companies that before acting on consumer perceptions, there are legal and ethical implications companies must consider.

"First and foremost, food producers using both non-GMO or GMO crops should utilize the same state-of -the-art risk management for ensuring food quality," Redick says. "Responsible food producers concerned with liability risks must maintain a product-based approach to food safety to minimize consumer fraud and product liability risks. In assessing the liability risks associated with GMO and non-GMO product lines, companies have no choice but to rely upon the truth as defined by scientific evidence."

Bruhn says that based on the science supporting this new technology and the U.S. consumer's understanding of this new tool, the potential for the attitudes of U.S. consumers to continue to be favorable is very strong.

The "Biotechnology: Friend or Foe?" workshop will be held Oct. 2-3, 2000 in Monterey, Calif. After Sept. 11, prices increase to $495 and $595.)

The seminar opens Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. with a networking breakfast and table top exhibits and includes an evening reception. It then resumes Tuesday at 7 a.m. and concludes with optional tours from 12:30 p.m. - 6 p.m. For more information on the seminar, contact Seneta Burns at 703-299-6282 or access the IFPA web site at www.fresh-cuts.org.