Austbioattitude2010

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Australian attitudes to biotechnology

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Austbioattitude2010

  1. 1. 1 PUBLIC ATTITUDES TOWARDS BIOTECHNOLOGY IN AUSTRALIA Results of a survey of public attitudes 2009-10 Research context In 2009, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research commissioned the IPSOS-Eureka Social Research Institute to undertake research on community attitudes to biotechnology. Previous surveys had been conducted every two years from 1999, to determine public attitudes towards biotechnology and biotechnology applications in Australia. Methodology The project took place between December 2009 and June 2010, and involved the collection of both qualitative and quantitative data. Specifically, the research involved: • Six focus groups of an exploratory nature (held in a metropolitan and a rural location) (total n=47 participants); • Three stakeholder consultations (total n=15 participants); and • A survey of n=1,024 people across Australia, sampled to be demographically representative of the wider population, conducted both online and via computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Key findings The Australian public has continued to strongly support biotechnologies that provide health or environmental benefits, but their support for genetically modified (GM) foods has dropped a little since 2007. Biotechnologies of key interest to the public include genetic modification (GM), cloning, stem cell research and using organisms to clean up pollution. GM food continues to be one of the least well supported biotechnologies, although the public perceive the benefits (70%) still outweigh the risks (48%). This is a drop from 2007 in benefits (77%) and risks (54%), yet still much higher than the 2005 figure of perceived benefits (64%) but lower than the 2005 figure of perceived risk at 71%. In 2009-10, GM food is more highly supported than foods containing preservatives and foods grown with pesticides. While 67% per cent of the public say that GM foods are acceptable, half of those opposed would change that position if there was long-term evidence of no harm being caused. About 45% per cent of those opposed to GM foods would change their position if labelling explained what ingredients had been modified and why. This support varies depending on the amount of GM in the food, why the modification was made and whether the food was a fruit and vegetable or other crop. The Australian public has continued to strongly support biotechnologies that provide health or environmental benefits, but their support for genetically modified (GM) foods has dropped a little since 2007...
  2. 2. 2 Figure 1: Changes in support for different applications of biotechnology over ten years. (Note: The large support for all applications in 2007 was linked to concerns about the state of the globe and the role of new technologies in alleviating problems of climate change, pandemics and food shortages etc) Other key findings include an increasing public trust in Australian regulators and a drop in perceived value of using biotechnologies to address climate change and to produce biofuels. Overall, support for health and medical applications of biotechnology was higher than support for applications in food or agriculture; mean ratings were 6.2 and 5.2 out of 10, respectively. This difference was consistent with 2007 findings. Figure 2: Overall support for health and medical vs food and agricultural applications Awareness and perceptions of applications of biotechnology Participants were presented with a number of applications of biotechnology, and for each, were asked whether they had heard of it, whether they felt it was likely to be useful to society, whether it would be risky to society, and whether it would be acceptable to them. Overall, prompted awareness of various applications of biotechnology was fairly high. Apart from the role of biotechnology in medicine production, medical applications of biotechnology rated highly, with more than three quarters aware of ‘using stem cells to conduct medical 5 2 4 4 5 19 10 17 15 7 12 9 4 6 5 8 23 11 16 9 4 7 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 0 - Completely against it 2 4 6 8 10 - Fully suportive % Health and medical Food and agricultural Base: 2007: n=1,118; 2010: n=1,024 Mean 2007 2010 Health & med 6.9 6.2 Food & ag 5.7 5.2 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2010 Use human genes in medicines/vaccines Make plants more pest resistant Using Stem cells to conduct medical research and treat diseases Using gene technology in food and drinks Using human genes in animals for growing organs
  3. 3. 3 research and treat disease’ (93%), ‘using genetic information in medical research’ (81%), and ‘using genetic modification to grow human tissue or organs…’ (79%). Among the food, agricultural and environmental applications, awareness of genetically modifying plants to produce food (82%) was far higher than ‘using biotechnology in the production of food from plants’ (67%), ‘using genetic modification in the control of introduced pest animals’ (55%), and ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce non-food crops’ (54%). For each of these applications, more than two thirds considered the application useful. Perceived utility was particularly high for ‘using genetic information in medical research’ and ‘using stem cells to conduct medical research and treat disease’, was considered useful by 92% and 91% respectively, ‘using genetic modification to grow human tissue or organs…’ (75%), and ‘using genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines’ (70%). Overall, there was a clear trend of decreasing perceived usefulness with decreasing personal involvement and/or benefit, from medical and health applications, to food crops, to environmental issues such as pest control and non-food crops. Since 2007, there has been a significant decrease in the proportion who perceive genetic modification and biotechnology in food production as useful (77% versus 70%, and 76% versus 69%). Conversely, in 2010 a significantly larger proportion of participants consider genetic modification of non-food crops useful (68% versus 60% in 2007). Risk Perception For each application of biotechnology suggested, a sizeable proportion of participants perceived an element of risk to society. The application most frequently considered risky was ‘using genetic modification in the control of introduced pest animals’ (52% considered it risky), followed by ‘using genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines’ (51%), and ‘using genetic modification to grow human tissue or organs…’ (50%). Of the food and agriculture applications, ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce food’ was considered risky by more participants than ‘using biotechnology in the production of food from plants’ (48% versus 43%), followed by ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce non-food crops’ (39%). The two applications considered risky by the fewest people were ‘using genetic information in medical research (29%), and ‘using stem cells to conduct medical research and treat disease’ (24%). Since 2007, the proportion that perceive risk has increased for both the use of biotechnology in the production of food (43% from 34% in 2007), and the genetic modification of non-food crops (39% from 31%). Acceptability of the various applications of biotechnology presented was generally high, with each application receiving approval from at least three in five. The use of stem cells and genetic information in medical research were acceptable to the greatest majority (88% each). The remaining applications were acceptable to between 61% and 65% of participants, including: • ‘using biotechnology in the production of food from plants’ (65%); • ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce non-food crops’ (63%); • ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce food’ (63%); • ‘using genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines’ (62%); • using genetic modification to grow human tissue or organs…’ (62%); and • ‘using genetic modification in the control of introduced pest animals’ (61%). ‘using stem cells to conduct medical research and treat disease’, was considered useful by 91%. The application most frequently considered risky was ‘using genetic modification in the control of introduced pest animals’.
  4. 4. 4 There has been a decline in the proportion that consider ‘modifying the genes of plants to produce food’ acceptable, from 69% in 2007 to 63% in 2010 (although still higher than 2005 at 47%. The overall acceptability of the other applications has not changed significantly since the previous wave. Figure 3: GM food crops: acceptability Food and agriculture applications As described above, overall support for applications of biotechnology to food and agriculture was lower than support for applications in health and medicine. In addition, overall support for genetic modification and other biotechnologies in food and agriculture was significantly lower in 2010 than in 20071 (5.2 out of 10 versus 5.7 out of 10 in 2007). Support was significantly greater among males, and among those who are more excited than concerned by new technologies (technophiles). As we would anticipate, overall support among those who agreed that we should use more natural ways of farming was significantly lower, as it was for those who agreed that ‘technological change happens too fast for me to keep up with it’. Attitudes to biotechnology in food and agriculture Attitudinal statements relating to the use of biotechnology in food and agriculture revealed that Australians hold very mixed feelings on the issue. While the majority of participants (66%) expressed agreement that we should use more natural ways of farming, the majority (53%) disagreed with the statement ‘research and development into the genetic modification of crops should be stopped’, with more than a quarter (30%) disagreeing strongly. In addition, despite widespread cynicism about the objectives of genetic modification in agriculture (49% agreed that it is mostly for the benefit of commercial companies), more people 1 This difference may be due in part to a change in the question wording from ‘gene technology’ to ‘genetic modification and other biotechnologies’. 11 10 12 11 14 15 20 19 17 17 20 27 14 21 28 35 44 49 57 56 69 63 74 67 58 50 36 32 26 28 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 Modifying the genes of plants to produce food ...by introducing the genes of a plant of the same species ...by introducing the genes of a plant of a different species ...by introducing the genes of a bacterium ...by introducing the genes of an animal Yes No Don't know Base: Rotated questions (2007: n=568; 2010: n=454) Support was significantly greater among males, and among those who are more excited than concerned by new technologies.
  5. 5. 5 disagreed (42%) than agreed (26%) that commercial use of genetic modification should be stopped. Opinion was also divided over whether we should accept or reject genetic modification based on perceived risks to our economic competitiveness – while 46% agreed that we should reject it if it reduced our economic competitiveness, 36% agreed that we should accept some degree of risk from genetic modification, if it enhances our economic competitiveness. Acceptability of genetically modified food crops under certain conditions Those survey participants who indicated that genetically modified food crops were ‘unacceptable’ were asked whether or not they would find genetically modified food crops acceptable under certain conditions. Based on the findings of the preliminary qualitative research, two new conditions were added to the questionnaire in 2010: ‘If long-term tests had shown no risks to human health or the environment’, and ‘If the labelling on the food described what component had been genetically modified, and why’. These two conditions together ranked the highest of the list of possible litigators; long-term evidence would convert half the non-acceptors (50%) to acceptance, and descriptive labelling would change the minds of 45%. Among the conditions that were also posed to non- acceptors in 2007, there were no significant differences in the strength of conversion. Attitudes towards objectives of genetically modifying food crops Survey participants were presented with a series of objectives of genetically modifying food crops and were asked to rate each objective on a four (4) point value scale: very valuable, somewhat valuable, not very valuable or not at all valuable. Figure 4: Perceived value of objectives of GM food crops: five most valuable Of the list of ten objectives, the objectives with the highest perceived value were using genetic modification ‘to make plants drought resistant’ (87% regarded this objective as somewhat valuable or very valuable) and ‘to make plants that can grow in salty soils’ (82% considered somewhat valuable or very valuable). The objectives that were perceived as the least valuable 97 36 43 4% 88 36 42 5% 87 31 50 4% 69 28 51 6% 79 26 54 4% 59 26 55 6% 76 31 50 5% 45 25 63 4% 46 20 65 5% 100 80 60 40 20 0 20 40 60 80 100 2007 2010 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 Not at all valuable Very valuable Don't know Base: 2007: n=1,118; 2010: n=1,024 to make plants drought resistant to make plants that can grow in salty soils to make the food healthier to make the plants pest resistant to make the plants frost resistant Not very valuable Somewhat valuable long-term evidence would convert half the non- acceptors
  6. 6. 6 were making plants herbicide tolerant (64%), making plants mature more quickly (62%), and making food taste better (59%). Since 2007, there has been a shift towards considering ‘making food cheaper’ and ‘making plants herbicide tolerant’ as more valuable objectives of genetic modification. Knowledge of genetically modified cropping in own state Survey participants were also asked whether or not they thought that commercial genetically modified crops were allowed to be grown in their state of residence, and if so, which crops were grown. A notable proportion (43%) of participants were unable to answer this question, an indication of the low levels of awareness of genetically modified crop growth across Australia. Those who did respond to this question were more likely to believe that genetically modified crops were grown in their own state than not (46% indicated yes and 12% indicated no). Both Western Australians and Victorians were more likely to indicate that genetically modified crops were grown in their state in 2010 than they were in 2007 – a reflection of the recent lifting of moratoria on genetically modified canola in these states. Across all the large states but Queensland, the most frequently mentioned crop was genetically modified canola (identified by 17% in NSW, 24% VIC, 33% WA, 19% SA). Awareness of genetically modified cotton was highest in NSW and QLD, where it is grown (9% and 14% respectively). Genetically modified wheat was also commonly cited across most states (7% of the total sample cited wheat). Numerous suggestions of corn, soya and other fruits and vegetables suggest there is considerable confusion between the genetically modified food crops available worldwide, and those grown in Australia. Support for genetically modified cropping in own state Just less than one in two participants (49%) indicated that they would be in favour of growing genetically modified crops in their own state, 33% were not in favour, and the remainder (18%) said that they were unsure. Support for the growth of genetically modified crops was fairly similar across states, ranging from 55% in NSW to 44% in Victoria. There has been no significant change in levels of support since 2007, including those states which have been subject to considerable media coverage of the issue, such as Western Australia and Victoria. Genetically modified food products Participants were asked to rate their willingness to eat a variety of different types of food on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 indicated the greatest level of willingness and 0 indicated the greatest level of hesitation. As anticipated, participants indicated being much more willing to eat organic food than all other types of foods (mean rating 8.2 out of 10). Of all the food products related to genetic modification, participants were most willing to eat food with a small amount of genetically modified ingredients (mean rating 5.0), followed by food made from genetically modified food crops (4.7), then genetically modified fruit and vegetables (4.6) and meat and other animal products fed with genetically modified stock feed (4.4). Participants were least willing to consume meat and other products from genetically modified animals (mean rating 3.9), cloned animals (3.5) and from the offspring of cloned animals (3.6). Willingness to eat a number of foods has fallen since 2007. There has been a small but significant decrease in consumer willingness Just less than one in two participants (49%) indicated that they would be in favour of growing genetically modified crops in their own state Of all the food products related to genetic modification, participants were most willing to eat food with a small amount of genetically modified ingredients
  7. 7. 7 to eat organic food from 8.3 to 8.2, and larger decreases in consumer willingness to eat genetically modified fruit and vegetables (down from 5.0 to 4.6), meat from genetically modified animals (down from 4.3 to 3.9) and meat from cloned animals (down from 3.8 to 3.5). The greatest decreases observed in consumer willingness to eat foods related not to genetically modified food but to food containing preservatives (down from 5.2 to 4.6), and food grown with the use of pesticides (down from 4.7 to 4.0). Awareness and perceptions of genetically modified non-food crops Participants were asked their views on modifying the genes of plants to produce non-food crops - first in general, and then specifically to produce fuels, to produce clothing and other textiles, and to produce plastics. More than half the research participants (54%) were aware of genetic modification of non-food crops; when prompted with the objective of producing fuels, awareness rose to 57%. Awareness of the use of genetically modified non-food crops in the production of both fuels and plastics has risen significantly – from 48% to 57% for fuels, and from 18% to 29% for plastics. The use of genetically modified crops to produce fuels has seen some significant changes since last wave. Perceived usefulness of this application has decreased significantly since 2007 (from 80% to 74%). While there has been no significant change in perceived risk, the proportion that view genetic modification of non-food crops to produce fuels as acceptable has decreased significantly (from 78% to 68%). Figure 5: Consumer willingness to eat GM foods relative to willingness to eat other types of foods Environmental applications Perceptions of environmental objectives of biotechnology As one would anticipate, the perceived value of all environmental objectives of biotechnology was very high; more than eight in ten participants indicated that each objective (with the exception of lowering the cost of plastic products) was somewhat or very valuable. Objectives that were seen to be particularly valuable were cleaning up pollution and recycling water more effectively, perceived as somewhat or very valuable by 97% and 96% of participants respectively. 8.2 5.0 4.7 4.6 4.6 4.4 4.0 3.9 3.6 3.5 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 O rganic food Foods w ith sm allam ountG M ingredients Processed foods such as bread orsoy m ilk… G M fruitand vegetables Food containing preservatives M eatfrom anim als fed w ith G M stock feed Food grow n w ith use ofpesticides M eatfrom G M anim als M eatfrom offspring ofcloned anim als M eatfrom cloned anim als Meanwillingness(outof10) Base: 2010: n=1,024
  8. 8. 8 The objectives perceived as least valuable were lowering the cost of petrol (87% consider it somewhat or very valuable), and lowering the cost of plastic products (75% considered it somewhat or very valuable). For four of the ten objectives, there has been a significant shift towards the less valuable end of the scale: ‘to recycle water more efficiently’, ‘to encourage the development of more environmentally friendly fuels for vehicles’, ‘to reduce fossil fuel consumption’, and ‘to help address climate change’. Firstly, the need to recycle water is likely to have decreased in the public consciousness since the drought eased across much of the country. The remaining objectives have clear links to biofuels and to climate change. There appears to be rising scepticism about the value of biofuels - preliminary qualitative research suggested that much of this uncertainty is due to concerns about food crop displacement. This may or not also be linked to rising levels of scepticism about climate change. Figure 6: Perceived value of environmental objectives of biotechnology Medical applications As noted for food and agricultural applications, there was also a significant decrease since last wave in the mean rating of overall support for the use of genetic modification and other biotechnologies in human health and medicine. The average rating given by participants in the current wave was 6.2 out of 10, while the average rating given in 2007 was 6.9. As for the agricultural applications, overall support for the use of biotechnology in health and medical applications was significantly greater among university graduates, and among those who are more excited than concerned by new technologies. 1 1 1 1 1 2 2 2 3 22 3 2 2 1 3 2 3 5 6 12 15 13 16 14 17 15 19 21 20 81 78 80 78 80 75 77 71 64 66 5 3 4 3 4 3 5 4 7 6 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 to recycle water more effectively to clean up pollution to encourage the development of more environmentally friendly fuels for vehicles to reduce fossil fuel consumption to address declining biodiversity or the gradual extinction of plants and animals Don’t know Very valuable Some-what valuable Not very valuable Not at all valuable Base: 2007: n=1,118; 2010: n=1,024 There appears to be rising scepticism about the value of biofuels - preliminary qualitative research suggested that much of this uncertainty is due to concerns about food crop displacement
  9. 9. 9 In previous waves of this research, participants were asked about ‘using gene technology to produce medicines’. In 2010, this question was split into two key components; participants were asked their opinions about the use of genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines, and about the use of genetic information in medical research. Awareness and perceptions of using genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines Awareness of the use of genetic modification in the manufacture of medicines was fairly low at 48%. Awareness levels dropped further when details of the genetically organisms were provided: 34% had heard of manufacturing medicines by inserting genes into animals, 29% had heard of using bacteria, and only 20% had heard of using plants. A similar pattern was observed for perceived usefulness of the applications, although genetically modified bacteria were considered more useful than genetically modified animals (43% considered bacteria useful, 34% considered animals useful). Perceived risk was moderate for the general concept (42%) but increased markedly for the specific applications (61% for introducing human genes into animals, 50% for introducing human genes into plants, and 56% for introducing human genes into bacteria). Acceptability followed the reverse trend, with the general concept being acceptable to 73%, while specific applications were acceptable to only 43% (plants and bacteria) and 36% (animals). Figure 7: Stem cells: acceptability trends over time Awareness and perceptions of using genetic information in medical research Like stem cells, the use of genetic information in medical research is well-known and widely accepted. Of particular interest in this survey wave was the inclusion of the sub-part ‘using genetic information in medical research to tailor a person’s healthcare based on their genetic make-up’. While awareness of this application was lower than the general concept (66% compared to 81%), perceived usefulness was high at 77%. Despite being perceived as risky by 36%, tailored healthcare was considered acceptable by a large majority (70%). 8 6 7 8 11 12 11 14 6 5 7 4 10 9 18 17 86 88 86 88 80 79 71 70 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 2007 2010 Using stem cells to conduct medical research and treat disease ...using stem cells generated from the patients own cells ...using non-embryonic, cord or adult stem cells ...using embryonic stem cells Yes No Don't know Base: Rotated questions (2007: n=551; 2010: n=441)
  10. 10. 10 Information As found in 2007, unprompted awareness of organisations responsible for providing balanced and factual information about biotechnology was very low; while 5% mentioned the Federal Government, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research was mentioned by less than 1% of participants. When prompted, 38% of participants had heard of DIISR, a significant increase since 2007, when 32% had heard of Biotechnology Australia. Regulation When asked to name the organisation/s responsible for regulating biotechnology in Australia, nearly half the respondents (49%) were unable to provide an answer. The CSIRO was most frequently mentioned (22%), followed by ‘federal government’ (13%). When prompted, awareness of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) far exceeded awareness of other regulatory organisations, at 85%. Awareness of Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) was also fairly high, at 60%. Awareness of Biosecurity Australia has increased significantly from 23% to 34%. Less than a quarter of participants (22%) had heard of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, and only 8% had heard of the Office the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). Survey participants who had heard of each organisation were also asked if they would trust the organisation to regulate genetic modification and other biotechnologies. Compared to last wave, trust in the AVPMA, Biosecurity Australia and AQIS all increased significantly (72% from 56% for APVMA, 67% from 49% for Biosecurity Australia, and 64% from 50% for AQIS). Figure 8: Attitudes towards regulation 1012 9 15 29% 25% 610 11 17 30% 25% 78 15 20 25% 25% 49 14 24 24% 25% 100 80 60 40 20 0 20 40 60 80 100 The rules that regulate the use of genetic modification in medical research are complied with The rules that regulate the use of genetic modification in medical research are sufficiently rigorous The rules that regulate the use of genetic modification in agriculture and food production are complied with The rules that regulate the use of genetic modification in agriculture and food production are sufficiently rigorous Disagreement strong mild Agreement mild strong Neutral Don't know Base: combined data, n=1,024
  11. 11. 11 Key conclusions Food and agricultural applications Despite some shift in opinion about genetically modified food crops, there remains widespread acknowledgement of the potential benefits they may provide. Many recognised the value of a number of objectives of genetically modifying crops, particularly the need to adapt to the Australian climate by producing plants that are drought or salinity resistant. In addition, the majority of those who do not accept genetically modified food crops would be swayed by long- term tests (50% would change their minds), and labelling describing what component had been genetically modified, and why (45% would be influenced). As found in previous research, there is widespread overestimation of the number of genetically modified crops grown in Australia, and also of the pervasiveness of genetically modified food products and ingredients throughout the food supply. Environmental applications Overall, the idea of using biotechnology to achieve environmental objectives was considered very valuable. Aside from cleaning up pollution, which remains the most valuable objective, several high-ranking environmental objectives have dropped in perceived value since 2007. Each of these changes is likely to be the result of topical issues: the need to recycle water is likely to be less pressing in 2010 than in 2007, following severe rainfall deficiencies in 20062 . In addition, items related to fuel use and alternative fuels are likely to be less pertinent than they were in 2007, when fuel prices were particularly high. Participants in the preliminary qualitative research also expressed concerns about the possibility of fuel-producing crops displacing valuable food crops. Finally, there was a drop in the perceived value of using biotechnology to address climate change, which led to it being ranked as one of the least valuable environmental objectives of biotechnology. This may be due in part to rising scepticism about anthropogenic climate change per se, rather than doubt in the ability of biotechnology to address the problem. Medical applications Of all the applications of biotechnology to medicine, the use of stem cells remains the most accepted application, with the highest levels of awareness, and lowest perceived risk. In general, there was a pattern among the medical applications of high levels of awareness and perceived usefulness, a low to moderate level of perceived risk, and majority acceptance. Information and regulation While awareness of the organisations responsible for providing information about biotechnology and for its regulation within Australia remains low, there is a high level of trust in the regulatory system, which for a number of organisations has risen since the last wave of this survey. 2 Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology Drought Statement Archive: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/archive/ Despite some shift in opinion about genetically modified food crops, there remains widespread acknowledgement of the potential benefits they may provide.

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