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Washington, DC - Differences in media coverage, science literacy, and the public's trust in regulatory authorities can help explain why genetically modified foods have met rancorous public resistance in Europe but hardly a raised eyebrow in the U.S., according to a survey by a team of U.K. researchers. The team analyzes their results in a paper that is part of Science's 16 July special issue about plants and biotechnology.
The forces that shape public opinion towards food biotechnology have been the subject of much speculation lately. But this study, by George Gaskell, of the London School of Economics, and his colleagues, from the same institution and The Science Museum in London, is one of the first to draw some conclusions using empirical data. The survey itself was conducted in 1996 and 1997, and it investigated European and U.S. attitudes towards a variety of applications for genetic engineering. Now, in their Science paper, Gaskell and his colleagues have focused for the first time on a U.S./European comparison of the portion of their survey concerning GM foods and added an analysis of press coverage and policy formation from 1984 to 1996.
Blame it on the Press?
Media coverage does seem to drive the public's responses to new technologies, Gaskell and his colleagues conclude-but not in the way that one might expect. Between 1984 and 1996, European newspapers had a greater increase in the number of stories about agricultural and food biotechnology than the U.S.' Washington Post did, the researchers found. Surprisingly, European coverage generally was more positive than the Washington Post's--even while the European public's aversion towards GM foods was growing. Thus, it seems more likely that Europeans were respond
Contact: Heather Singmaster
American Association for the Advancement of Science