Public perceptions of genetic engineering in New Zealand

Public perceptions of genetic engineering in New Zealand

Author: Amy Smith, New Zealand

Jesse Bering – University of Otago

The first commercially available biotech crop available to consumers was the “Flavr Savr” tomato in 1994, a crop that could be ripened whilst still on the vine, unlike conventional tomatoes which must be harvested whilst still green and treated with ethylene to encourage ripening. Canned and paste tomato products derived from Flavr Savr cost 20% less to produce, thus costing the consumer less. The product was discontinued in 1998 due erroneous public health concerns, despite promising early sales. The success of genetically engineered crops depends on how well genetic engineering is perceived by prospective consumers.

This report describes an empirical study of the perceptions of genetically engineered crops, which agricultural application is most acceptable, and how perceptions change when prestented with new information. We assessed three key factors: trust, familiarity, and concern

Participants began by answering questions to establish their familiarity with genetic engineering and asked how they felt about it. They were randomly assigned to one of three conditions – each representing viable applications of genetic engineering (increased nutritional value, insect pest resistance, and herbicide resistance); after reading a short vignette about the purpose of their designated application, their opinion of the technology was then reassessed to determine if their perception genetic engineering had changed.

Early trends suggest that most New Zealanders possess some level of understanding of what genetic engineering is and expressed some reservation about its use. However, their level of concern appears to vary by the utilitarian purpose of this technology, being more accepting of biotech applications that directly benefit themselves or the environment.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Visual talk
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Building a theoretical basis for science communication