BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ As the public debate on biotechnology continues to threaten the industry¿s future in Europe ¿ the latest contribution is an article by the heir to the British throne in a leading London daily, calling for an indefinite freeze on genetically modified crops ¿ the European Federation of Biotechnology has published a new compilation study, ¿Public Opinion about Biotechnology: a Survey of Surveys.¿
This review of the public attitudes revealed by some 50 surveys over the last 10 years makes gloomy reading for anyone in the industry. Not only does it show widespread concern over biotechnology, but it also suggests the industry rarely is seen as a credible contributor to the debate.
A British study noted that ¿responses tended to express concern about the technology,¿ and offered a warning against simply providing more pro-biotechnology information. It suggested the provider of the information is as important as the information that is given: ¿Source credibility is an important determinant of public responses to information about genetic engineering.¿
A large German study demonstrated that ¿few people are aware of the potential of gene technology,¿ and its authors predict: ¿Fear about gene technology will not be counterbalanced by its benefit.¿ There is a negative popular prejudice, as 64 percent of respondents were uncomfortable with gene technology and 60 percent spontaneously gave a negative reaction to the word itself.
A Danish study showed that 69 percent of those surveyed were in favor of a ban on introducing genetically engineered food into the market, with 95 percent calling for labeling.
A recent German/Swiss study showed ¿genetic engineering of animals for medical research was supported by 20 percent and was opposed by 65 percent. Gene patenting was supported by 9 percent of the respondents and was opposed by 79 percent.¿
A Dutch study concluded, ¿There is both a need and an ongoing interest for more information about biotechnology,¿ but that ¿consumer and environmental organizations are seen as the most reliable sources, scientific sources and the government follow, and journals and industry are seen as the least reliable.¿
One of the biggest surveys of all ¿ the Eurobarometer study regularly carried out by the European Union, and based on about 15,000 interviews each time ¿ is hardly more encouraging. From some of the most recent Eurobarometer studies, the conclusions do note some support for biotechnology/genetic engineering in diagnosis and treatment, but ¿significantly less Europeans approve of using transgenic animals for research or for organ transplants.¿
There is ¿public concern¿ because of ¿a lack of trust.¿ A majority wants labeling of biotechnology products and more public participation in the decision-making process. About half the respondents find current regulations insufficient.
And as if the debate on biotechnology in Europe was not clouded enough, the European Commission¿s own department for consumer policy and public health protection has added to the debate. The latest issue of its widely distributed quarterly magazine, Consumer Voice, prominently carries an alarmist two-and-a-half page feature from Dr. Arpad Pusztai. He is the discredited Aberdeen researcher, whose claims that genetically modified potatoes damaged rat metabolism and immune response were exposed just weeks ago by a top-level British investigation as profoundly flawed and scientifically worthless.