From 2001 to 2014 there has been a big shift to acceptance of genetic modification, from 92% opposed to genetic engineering (GE) to 80% accepting it.
Prof. Jean Fleming, presented at the recent Science Communicator’s Association of New Zealand annual conference some results from Katherine Hope’s 2014 Masters thesis, which covered a survey of New Zealander’s responses to genetic engineering.
The relevant passage from Katherine’s thesis abstract is,
In 2001, the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification had found 92% of public submitters were completely opposed to GE. The survey reported in this thesis [in 2014] found 80% of the 609 respondents are now accepting, or completely accepting of GE which indicates that public opinion towards GE is shifting towards acceptance.
(A copy of the full abstract is also in the Footnotes below.)
It’s good to see some numbers put to this. The shift observed is quite substantial.
Jean Fleming suggested that this indicated the value of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification (of which she was a member of), initiating a shift in understanding over time.
In addition to this, my thoughts are that the shift may reflect a better appreciation over time that there are few food safety concerns, and that little of concern has occurred over the decade-plus between these surveys.
Towards the end of the abstract, it notes that some people still have concerns about large corporations,
the main concern New Zealanders have about GE is large corporations, like Monsanto, controlling the scientists and their products
A suggestion: if large corporations are a concern, support the small players.
Newer techniques can enable smaller groups to tackle goals that once were limited to very large organisations. Many of these new plant varieties are being developed by relatively small research teams.
In the case of New Zealand, any home-grown efforts would most likely be the work of our Crown Research Institutes (CRIs).
Our CRI teams are small by world-wide standards, yet have developed a number of new varieties over the years.
It’s also worth remembering that a number of these new plant varieties are the work of charities, not commercial companies.
1. Retired, but it has to be said like so many retired academics she sounds as if she is still doing a fair bit! Jean Fleming was Katherine Hope’s Masters thesis advisor. Katherine’s thesis was taken at the Centre for Science Communication, University of Otago.
2. To spare the small effort of tracking to the University website, the full abstract reads:
When science enters the public domain it can often lead to controversy if it raises questions of power, knowledge and control. This thesis uses examples of these socioscientific issues to evaluate the positive and negative impacts of science on society. The ability of socioscientific issues to promote critical thinking and produce democratic citizens is also discussed in the context of science education and science communication. New Zealand’s experience with Genetic Engineering (GE) is used as the basis for a survey on New Zealanders’ current attitudes towards GE. In 2001, the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification had found 92% of public submitters were completely opposed to GE. The survey reported in this thesis found 80% of the 609 respondents are now accepting, or completely accepting of GE which indicates that public opinion towards GE is shifting towards acceptance. This change in opinion may be due to the overwhelmingly approval of GE by scientific institutions worldwide, though the main concern New Zealanders have about GE is large corporations, like Monsanto, controlling the scientists and their products.