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Attitudes to the Risks and Benefits of Agricultural Biotechnology in Britain: the role of ambivalence

Professor Nick Pidgeon
University of East Anglia
Email: n.pidgeon@uea.ac.uk| 

Date: 8 June 2004
: 1:00pm - 2:30pm
: CARR Seminar Room, H615


The results of the recently concluded GMNation? Public Debate on the commercialisation of agricultural biotechnology in Great Britain raises a number of fundamental questions regarding existing public attitudes to this technology. We report findings from a major national GB survey (n=1,363) of public attitudes to the risks and benefits of GM food and crops conducted between 19 July and 12 September 2003, directly after the end of GMNation? Public Debate. Although many traditional quantitative studies construe 'attitudes' in all or nothing (i.e. bipolar) terms, previous qualitative work on the discourses surrounding GM agriculture highlights the important role of 'ambivalence'. This paper develops a classification of four ideal-type attitudinal positions towards GM food and crops, namely: positive, negative, ambivalent and indifferent. Using quantitative risk and benefit measures we demonstrate how the landscape of public attitudes to GM food and crops can be mapped. We find that the greatest proportion of respondents are ambivalent about GM food and crops, simultaneously endorsing risks and some benefits of this technology. Accordingly, we conclude that at the time of GM Nation? ambivalence dominated UK public attitudes, with, additionally, a significant skew towards the negative pole (a further significant group sees very high risks and very few benefits). The paper concludes by considering the theoretical implications of this analysis for theories of attitudinal ambivalence, as well as the implications of the findings for the outcomes of the GMNation? Public Debate. The research was facilitated by grants from the Leverhulme Trust and the UK Economic and Social Research Council.