International Food Information Council
The Washington D.C.-based International Food Information Council (IFIC) says it is
- a nonprofit organization that communicates sound science-based information on food safety and nutrition topics to health professionals, journalists, government officials and consumers' .
It was set up in 1986 to defend the sweetener aspartame from attacks. Its original funders included Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, General Foods and the NutraSweet Group. It now represents the food, beverage and agricultural industries, and its members include Nabisco, McDonalds, Kraft Foods, Nestle and Hershey. It lobbies for favourable food legislation and trade rules.
The IFIC's website includes no information about its funding. However, its press releases say in a footnote that this U.S. 'communications organization' is 'supported primarily by the broad-based food, beverage and agricultural industries'.
Amongst IFIC's Supporters in 2002 were:
- Archer Daniels Midland Company
- Aventis CropScience
- Burger King Corporation
- Cargill, Incorporated
- The Coca-Cola Company
- Dow AgroSciences, LLC
- DuPont Agricultural Products
- Frito-Lay Inc.
- General Mills Inc.
- Gerber Products Company
- Hershey Foods Corporation
- H. J. Heinz Company
- Kellogg USA Inc.
- Kraft Foods
- McDonald's Corporation
- Monsanto Company
- The Pepsi-Cola Company
- Nestle USA, Inc.
- Taco Bell Corporation
- The Procter & Gamble Company
- Unilever Bestfoods
As part of its science-based remit IFIC commissions research into consumer attitudes. An area of repeated focus by the IFIC has been consumer acceptance of 'food biotechnology'. 'Since 1997, IFIC has provided the longest continuous series of publicly available surveys to determine how consumers feel about food biotechnology.'
The results of each annual survey are press released, attracting wide-scale media coverage. In 2002 IFIC reported, 'American consumer support for food biotechnology is holding steady, while specific benefits are resonating even more in the latest survey conducted for the International Food Information Council by Cogent Research in August 2002.' 
In 2003, IFIC reported 'A growing majority of Americans support the benefits of food biotechnology as well as the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) labeling policy.' 
The surveys were devised for the IFIC by Dr Thomas Hoban, Professor of Sociology and Food Science at North Carolina State University. Dr Hoban is a keen supporter of genetic engineering and is listed by CS Prakash as an AgBioWorld expert.
Hoban's publications include, 'Biotechnology is Here to Stay: American retailers need not worry about consumer acceptance of foods produced with modern biotechnology', and an outreach videotape, 'Biotechnology: It's Role in Your Future' .
Hoban's IFIC survey questions include:
- 'All things being equal, how likely would you be to buy a variety of produce, like tomatoes or potatoes, if it had been modified by biotechnology to taste better or fresher?'
- 'Biotechnology has also been used to enhance plants that yield foods like cooking oils. If cooking oil with reduced saturated fat made from these new plants was available, what effect would the use of biotechnology have on your decision to buy this cooking oil.'
According to Karen Charman in a PR Watch article on Hoban's IFIC surveys:
- 'James Beniger, a communications professor at the University of Southern California and past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, reviewed the IFIC survey and said it is so biased with leading questions favoring positive responses that any results are meaningless. UCLA communications professor Michael Suman agreed, adding that the questions "only talk about the food tasting better, being fresher, protecting food from insect damage, reducing saturated fat and providing benefits. It's like saying 'Here's biotechnology, it does these great things for you, do you like it?'" '
The results might be different, Suman offers, if it contained questions biased in the other direction such as: 'Some people contend that some foods produced from biotechnology cause higher rates of cancer. If that is so, what effect would that have on your buying decision?'
IFIC staff include Sylvia Rowe, president and CEO; and David B. Schmidt, Senior Vice President.
- ^International Food Information Council Website Home Page
- ^ SUPPORT FOR FOOD BIOTECHNOLOGY HOLDS IN THE U.S., September 23, 2002
- ^ IFIC IFIC Reports
- ^ NCSU WebsiteHoban's publications
- ^ PRwatch Karen Charman Interview