Brussels, 25 Sep 2003
A UK public debate on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the most wide ranging to date in Europe, has revealed that the more participants choose to discover about GMOs, the stronger their opposition to the technology becomes.
The findings of the 'GM Nation?' debate were contained in a report published on 24 September. The main conclusions to emerge regarding public attitudes towards GMOs are:
- people in the UK are generally uneasy about GMOs;
- the more people engaged in GMO issues, the harder their attitudes and more intense their concerns became;
- there is little support for early commercialisation of GM crops;
- there is widespread mistrust of the UK government and multinational companies involved in GMOs;
- people want to know more, and want further research to be done.
Professor Malcolm Grant is the chairperson of the steering board that oversaw the UK debate. He said: 'This was an innovative exercise around a complicated issue, and it has provoked a remarkable level of response. There were hundreds of meetings across the country [...]. More than 37,000 people registered their views with us.'
Professor Grant stressed that the report was compiled by the independent steering group, and did not attempt to judge the public's views. He also said that the UK government had committed to studying the report carefully and would make a public response to it.
During the debates, it was revealed that the public's general unease towards GMOs related not only to issues of human health and environmental protection, but extended to broader social and political concerns. The mood of participants ranged from caution to outright rejection, says the report, and these attitudes outweighed any degree of support or enthusiasm for GM technology.
A general feeling was expressed that no one knows enough about GMOs, and that much more research is necessary. Participants described a strong wish to be better informed about the issues by sources they could trust, and called for a body of agreed 'facts', accepted by all sides, to be compiled.
Alongside its main conclusions, the report also found that over 50 per cent of those involved in the debate said that they never wanted to see GM crops grown in the UK under any circumstances. The report warns that this level of opposition might not be representative of the views of the general population, but concluded that a majority of UK citizens oppose the commercialisation of GM crops until clear benefits to society, and not just producers, have been demonstrated.
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