Surveys highlight growing public anxiety

This issue reports four new surveys of public attitudes to
carried out in the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan in the last 10 months.
Although the results vary to an extent from region to region, all the
surveys show that the number of people who are optimistic about the future
contribution of across several applications is declining and
that number of pessimists is increasing. They also suggest that public
attitudes are shaped by moral acceptability of specific
applications and that scientific literacy/knowledge has very little effect
on peoples attitudes.

In the US survey, which questioned 1002 respondents between April and May
2000, Susanna Priest reports that nearly 53% of respondents remain
optimistic about the contribution of genetic engineering to modern life;
however, a substantial proportion (30%) were of the opposite view.
Pessimists saw genetic engineering on a par with nuclear power. While
industry and consumer groups were seen in a positive light, government
regulatory bodies were not.

In Canada, a survey on public attitudes to cloning carried out in February
2000 on 1000 adults revealed a strong association between negative
attitudes toward cloning and attitudes toward in general. The
survey’s coordinator, Edna Einsiedel, suggests that this may be attributed to
the high profile of cloning stories in national newspapers. Overall, cloning
is perceived negatively because of strongly held beliefs that it is
against and that if any thing went wrong a global disaster
would ensue.

From the European survey (termed the Eurobarometer), which questioned
16,082 respondents in November 1999 in 16 countries, George Gaskell and his
colleagues also suggest that Europeans have become increasingly opposed to
GM foods, but remain supportive of medical and environmental applications.
Greater opposition to GM foods than to GM crops suggests that for the
public, food safety concerns outweigh environmental concerns. The survey
also reveals there is no specifically European position on .
The relative resistance to applications such as GM food
varies widely from country to country.

The final survey from Japan, which was coordinated by Darryl Macer and
Mary Ann Chen Ng and interviewed 297 people between November 1999 and February
2000, also reveals that support for is waning, although a
small majority of people (59%) still is optimistic about and
its applications. Even environmental applications of have
dropped in popularity in the past nine years, suggesting that bad
publicity concerning GM crops has tainted perceptions of other applications. An
accompanying survey of 370 Japanese scientists indicated that their
perceptions of mirror closely those of the public, although
they are more optimistic about its potential.

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