EU study uncovers myths about public attitudes to biotechnology

May 16, 2002

Brussels, 15 May 2002

An EU-funded study has concluded that popular perceptions of public attitudes to biotechnology are mere myths.

The report on 'Public perceptions of agricultural biotechnologies in Europe,' (PABE), funded under the 'Agriculture and fisheries' priority of the Fourth Framework programme for research, discovered that many popular prejudices about the public's perception of new agricultural technologies are unfounded.

It found no evidence for the claim that public resistance to biotechnologies can be explained by a mixture of ignorance and a drive towards a zero risk society. People take for granted that science can never accurately predict all the future impacts of a new technology, and feel instead that these inherent and unavoidable uncertainties should be acknowledged by expert institutions and taken into account in decision making.

Professor Brian Wynne, who coordinated the research team, said: 'The ordinary person on the street acknowledges the existence of uncertainty and the need to take risks for gaining certain benefits. Yet most people are sceptical that the benefits of genetically modified organisms in agriculture would constitute a worthwhile social need that could justify even a remote chance of experiencing long-term risk.'

The findings indicate that while public education and information programmes are valuable in themselves, they will fail to promote public acceptance of agricultural biotechnology. Citizen input from opinion gathering exercises must be used to shape research policy and risk-evaluation procedures.

'The root of the conflict does not lie in the technology but in the way institutions handle these issues,' notes Professor Wynne. Rather than denying uncertainties and framing the issue as a conflict between promising market opportunities and overcoming public irrationality, institutional decision makers should provide room for an open dialogue about the orientation of scientific research, he said.

The PABE project was conducted during 1998 to 2000 by an interdisciplinary research team from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. It used focus groups and interviews to gather intelligence on the social, ethical and cultural factors shaping public responses to genetically modified (GM) foods. It aimed to identify the implications of these factors for policy making at national and European level.

The report and a summary are available at the following web address: http://www.pabe.net

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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