At New Scientist Magazine, Assessing the UK Government's Goal of Changing the Conversation About Food Biotechnology
At the New Scientist magazine last week, I was asked to provide an analysis of UK environment minister Owen Paterson’s announcement that his government would seek to change the conversation about food biotech in Europe. Here’s how the article opens. Read the rest….
HOW TO WIN PEOPLE’S HEARTS AND MINDS FOR GM FARMING
Shifting opinions on genetically modified crops in Europe will require more than government-led conversation, says policy communication researcherMatthew Nisbet
In a carefully crafted speech, UK environment minister Owen Paterson announced that the government would be leading “a more informed discussion” on genetically modified (GM) crops and that he was “conscious of the views of those who have concerns and who need reassurance on this matter”.
His remarks signal that the UK wants to build support for GM crops despite there being an effective moratorium on their use in Europe. But no matter how well framed the messages might be from political leaders, other engagement strategies and voices are needed if it is to succeed.
A recent British Science Association survey suggests that when prompted to consider the benefits to human health and the environment, a strong majority of the British public are supportive of GM crops. But when asked more generally, roughly 40 per cent remain uncertain about risks and benefits. There also remains strong scepticism from about 1 in 10 people. Across Europe opposition is even stronger.
Ambivalence and entrenched scepticism do not stem from scientific ignorance; but from differences in values and world views. Opponents of GM crops often espouse idealised visions of nature and farming, voice concerns over changes to cultural practices and traditions, and are deeply suspicious of the food biotech industry….
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.