Good and bad crops

August 1, 2003

Michael Reiss is right that classic social science research can discover more about biotechnology's impact on society ("Science review uncovers GM angst", THES, July 25).

The London School of Economics has just published Ambivalent GM Nation? , a report on changes in UK public attitudes towards biotechnology since 1991 ( www.lse.ac.uk/Depts/lses/news ).

In summary, throughout the 1990s the public became steadily less optimistic about biotechnology and less supportive of genetically modified crops and GM foods.

But post-1999, the climate has improved and there is no evidence that the controversies have had an impact on support for biomedical applications.

These are seen as risky but, unlike GM foods, they are considered to be beneficial.

Our research shows that a small majority of the public now supports GM crops, while public opinion splits 50/50 on GM foods.

Three out of four people said they were open to persuasion. And, while 30 per cent said they would not buy GM foods, more than half said they would if they were produced using less pesticide or grown in a more environmentally friendly way.

All this suggests that the jury of public opinion is still out.

George Gaskell
Associate director
BIOS, the centre for bioscience, biomedicine, biotechnology and society
London School of Economics and Political Science

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