Genetically modified (GM) crops and food are an important new field of
technological innovation and commercial growth in biotechnology in Europe,
but there has already been evidence of considerable, if ill-defined, public
anxiety about this unfamiliar though potentially beneficial new field.
The PABE project was commissioned by the EC and conducted during 1998-2000,
by an inter-disciplinary research team from the United Kingdom, France,
Germany, Italy and Spain. It aimed to provide intelligence about social,
ethical and cultural factors shaping public responses to GM foods. The
project set out to explore and compare the factors shaping public views
of agricultural biotechnologies and related food products in the five
EU countries and to identify the implications of these factors for policy
making at national and European levels.
In particular the project aimed to provide policy makers with insights
into the conditions necessary for improving levels of public trust in
agricultural biotechnology policies. Findings of the report suggest that
most policy makers' conceptions of public attitudes and perceptions turned
out to be mere 'myths'. There was no evidence for the claim that public
resistance to biotechnologies can be explained by a mixture of ignorance
and a desire for zero-risk. Rather, people felt strongly that inherent
and unavoidable uncertainties should be acknowledged by expert institutions,
and taken into account in decision making. Most people were sceptical
that the benefits of genetically modified organisms in agriculture would
constitute a worthwhile social need that could justify even a remote chance
of experiencing long-term risks.