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Attitudes to GM agriculture unchanged

Date posted: Monday 1 Feb 2010

Public attitudes to genetically modified (GM) agriculture in Australia are not changing, with the majority of Australians still uncomfortable with GM foods.

An article published in the latest edition of People and Place reports findings about attitudes to GM foods from Swinburne University’s National Science and Technology Monitor (SNSTM).

According to this data, public attitudes in Australia to GM foods have remained constant since 2003. 

“It seems that public perceptions of GM agriculture have barely changed in the past five years,” said one of the study’s authors Professor Michael Gilding. 

As part of the SNSTM’s annual national survey of a random sample of Australian residents, telephone interviews were conducted with 1000 people in September 2008, to rate their ‘comfort’ with a variety of technologies.

When people were asked how comfortable they were with genetically modifying plants for food, the average score was 3.9 on a scale of 10 with zero being ‘not at all comfortable' and 10 being ‘very comfortable’.  

“This ‘comfort’ rating has changed little over the past five years,” Gilding said. “It was 4.2 in 2003; 3.8 in 2004, 4.0 in 2005; 4.2 in 2006; 4.1 in 2007; and 3.9 in 2008. “Public support for GM food is not gaining ground.

Notwithstanding considerable diversity in Australians’ perceptions of GM food, most remain uncomfortable with it.” 

The study found that the problem for GM agriculture is not so much public ignorance, but rather a lack of trust in the institutions responsible for its commercialisation. 

“The study highlights the growing importance of trust in our public institutions as more and more of our daily lives are informed by science and technology,” Gilding said. 

“In the past, industry and governments adopted the approach ‘Trust us!’. In the contemporary age of climate change, stem cell research, nanotechnology and GM agriculture, this will not be enough. There will need to be more effort at transparency, participation and communication.”