Public understanding of science: Investigating knowledge and attitudes towards the use of gene technology in agriculture and food production in Australia

Lygia Malzoni Romanach (2010). Public understanding of science: Investigating knowledge and attitudes towards the use of gene technology in agriculture and food production in Australia PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Systems, The University of Queensland.

       
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Author Lygia Malzoni Romanach
Thesis Title Public understanding of science: Investigating knowledge and attitudes towards the use of gene technology in agriculture and food production in Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Systems
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Malcolm Wegener
Dr Suzanne Morris
Total pages 309
Total colour pages 5
Total black and white pages 304
Subjects 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Abstract/Summary The development and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops for agriculture and food production is a contentious issue with the use of this technology sparking considerable public concern in a number of countries. Previous studies on the subject point out that several ‘factors’ play an important role in shaping public attitudes towards GM food, indicating that public attitudes towards food in general, and GM crops in particular, are complex. However, few studies to date have compared the level of knowledge about the technology, and attitudes towards GM crops and food derived from them held by the general population with those of farmers. While the attitudes of consumers determine the public acceptance of GM products, farmers are the primary users of gene technology in agriculture and therefore play an essential role in the adoption and dissemination of this technology worldwide. In spite of public concern about GM crops and food, the adoption of GM technology in agriculture has been extremely rapid. Comparing the attitudes of farmers with those of the general population, and investigating the differences between the two groups, can contribute to better understanding of how attitudes towards GM crops and food are formed. Therefore, the aim of this study was to investigate the level of knowledge about gene technology and attitudes towards its use in agriculture and food production in Australia using the Queensland sugarcane industry as a case study. The present study incorporated both qualitative and quantitative methods of research. First, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a selected group of sugarcane industry stakeholders in order to investigate their views about the public’s perceptions of the use of GM crops and food in Australia. This study deemed the stakeholders’ views on this topic important to investigate, since they are likely to be involved in policy decisions about investments in future research, or regulation and potential commercialisation of GMOs in the Australian sugarcane industry. The interviewees believed it was important to differentiate the type and purpose of genetic modification when investigating public attitudes towards GM crops and food. They also reported that in their view, public opposition towards GM technology was due to a general lack of knowledge about the subject and a perceived lack of consumer benefits from implementing the technology. The findings from the interviews were used to assist the design of the mail survey questionnaires which were sent to samples of both the general population and sugarcane farmers operating in the State of Queensland, Australia. Statistical analysis of the mail survey results confirmed that many factors play a role in shaping public attitudes towards GM crops and food. Results also confirmed that these attitudes differ between members of the general population and farmers, as well as between males and females. Four main factors underlying public concern about the use of GM technology in agriculture and food production were identified from a review of the literature and the results of the mail survey interpreted through descriptive and inferential statistics. These factors were knowledge of GM science, attitudes towards food and the environment, trust in environmental organisations, and trust in research institutions. More advanced statistical analysis was undertaken through structural equation modelling techniques. The mail survey results indicated that, overall, the general population and females displayed a lower level of support for GM food when compared to sugarcane farmers and males, respectively. Analysis of the survey data indicated that this lower level of support can be partly explained by the fact that members of the general population and females showed greater preference for the natural aspects of food and placed a greater level of trust in environmental organisations than did sugarcane farmers and males, respectively. The survey results also indicated that the public had a very low level of knowledge and awareness of GM crops. However, within the general population sample, the respondents’ level of knowledge of GM science had no direct effect on their perceived risks and benefits of GM crops or on their support for GM food. The effect of public awareness of GM issues on support for GM crops and food was also not straightforward and varied according to the population under study. Within the general population, a higher level of awareness of GM issues had either no effect or a negative effect on their concerns about the use of GMOs in agriculture, their perceptions of the risks and benefits of GM crops and their support for GM food, especially amongst females. The effect of awareness of GM issues was even less evident amongst sugarcane farmers. However, when present, there was a positive effect of awareness of GM issues on the farmers’ perceptions of the risks and benefits of GM crops and their support for GM applications within male sugarcane farmers.
Keyword GMOs, GM crops, GM food, public attitudes, knowledge, trust, acceptance, willingness-to-buy, farmer attitudes, structural equation modelling
Additional Notes colour pages 20; 220-221; 228-229 landscape pages 50-51; 59; 207; 216

 
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Created: Sat, 18 Jun 2011, 10:37:01 EST by Ms Lygia Malzoni Romanach on behalf of Library - Information Access Service