Poll: NY residents split on biotechnology in food and agriculture

ITHACA, N.Y. -- A recent survey of New York state residents on the use of biotechnology in food and agriculture finds the public almost evenly split between those who oppose its use, those who favor it and those who are undecided.

The findings were among the results of a special-topics survey on biotechnology as part of the 2003 Empire State Poll, an ongoing poll of New Yorkers' views conducted by the Survey Research Institute at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

The survey findings reflect the public's apparent ambivalence on the use of biotechnology in food and agriculture. Thirty-nine percent of New Yorkers oppose the use of genetically modified food, compared with 33 percent who support it. A third, sizable segment, 29 percent, is undecided and neither opposes nor favors the use of biotechnology. Residents are similarly divided on whether the use of biotechnology is risky. Thirty-seven percent believe the risks of using biotechnology in food are greater than any benefits; 36 percent say the overall benefits are greater than any potential risk; and 28 percent think the benefits and risks are about equal.

"Public opinion about biotechnology appears to be much less polarized than commonly assumed," says Clint Nesbitt, manager of a Cornell public-issues education project on genetically engineered products (see http://www.geo-pie.cornell.edu). "Even among supporters and opponents, strength of opinion varies considerably. This suggests that the more strident voices so often heard in the public arena are not necessarily representative of public opinion at large and that there is fertile ground for a more-nuanced, balanced discussion of the issues."

The study also examined the demographics and behavior of New Yorkers who oppose, support or are undecided on the use of biotechnology. Opponents are more likely to be female, ideologically liberal and younger than those in the oth

Contact: Linda Myers
Cornell University News Service

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