View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

‘Pros’, ‘antis’ and ‘the public’

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Depending on your perspective, pros can be corrupt profit hunters or antis can be hippies. From both perspectives ‘the public’ need educating, and they are generally either perceived as anti-GM or totally ambivalent.

This view of ‘prevailing opinion’ is of course an over-simplification in itself, but is disturbingly close to the truth.

A (now quite old) paper discussing findings from the 2001 Public Acceptance of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Europe (PABE) report, challenged some of these preconceptions, and I believe that the findings are still relevant.

It found that focus group participants expressed a rather ambivalent attitude, but were able to discuss arguments both for and against GMOs. Encouragingly, I believe, participants didn’t react to genetic modification as a specific technology so much as to the context in which GMOs have been developed, evaluated and promoted.

Participants tended to be unsure about the technical distinction between conventional breeding methods and genetic modification. However, they were generally aware of this lack of knowledge, and their principal concerns were not based on incorrect information.

There was a fear that we are ‘pushing Nature beyond its limits’, and this fear extended to other environmentally-damaging agricultural practices. GMOs were, however, seen as an ‘ultimate incarnation’ of this trend.

Participants didn’t expect technology to be zero risk before they accepted it, but found expert statements asserting that there are no risks to be untrustworthy.

Personally, I not only dislike sweeping statements about what the public believes, but I’m also unhappy with the use of the word ‘public’. It sounds very ‘them and us’ – and risks setting up a situation where scientists want to educate the public in a way which disrespects their intelligence. The public also have extremely wide-ranging views.

Interesting links:

Biotechnology and public opinion – this report describes a 2012 citizen’s jury event, where experts presented evidence on GM to 16 members of the public

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

One thought on “‘Pros’, ‘antis’ and ‘the public’

  1. Pingback: GM news roundup: Ghana, the seed gap paradox and ‘inform & convince’ | View from the fence

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