Genetic Engineering: The New Zealand Public’s Point of View
In order to understand the New Zealand public's perceptions and attitudes towards genetic engineering of plants and plant-based products, an integrated set of seven studies was conducted with a total of 1158 people between March 1998 and May 2000.The first four studies concentrated on gaining qualitative, in-depth information that could be built on in later quantitative studies. Studies 1-3 involved focus groups conducted with the 'general consumer', Buddhists, and the environmentally concerned. Issues of concern included food safety, the desire for choice, failure of genetically modified products to offer benefits to the consumer, lack of trust in corporate and government motives and deep-seated moral objections to the technology. Study 4 involved attending a hui with Ngati Whatua of Orakei to explore Maori attitudes towards the technology. The relationship Maori had with food and the land, and the need to be consulted over issues to do with genetic modification were the two key areas that differentiated these people from the previous focus groups.Drawing on the belief that genetic engineering had nothing to offer to the consumer, study 5 explored the relative importance of price, benefit and technology on the purchase decision of consumers using conjoint analysis. Price was a key issue for many consumers. However, a significant segment had moral concerns about genetic engineering and their choices influenced by the technology used to produce the product, regardless of product category, price or benefit. For the most part, none of the health benefits played a role in the purchase decision for any of the consumers, but one segment of environmentally conscious consumers responded to pesticide-free tomatoes. One final segment of consumers could be described as relatively neophobic, preferring specific guarantees that the product was not genetically modified.A survey was distributed throughout New Zealand, based on Fishbein's multiattribute attitude model, and Azjen's theory of planned behaviour. The approach aimed to determine the important factors involved in acceptance of genetic engineering in food production, and predict likelihood of purchase of genetically modified tomatoes or jeans made from genetically modified cotton. Behavioural intention could be seen as requiring a two dimensional understanding: assessment of the risk-benefit trade-off involved in determining acceptance of genetic engineering in food production (influenced by general attitudes towards nature, and perceptions of own and authority's knowledge); and a measure of the social pressure and moral obligations associated with avoidance or purchase of a genetically modified product.Finally, the impact of information provision and debate on psychology students' acceptance of genetic engineering was assessed using a repeated measures intervention study. Although students who participated in the debate became more accepting of the benefits the technology could offer, little impact was made on perceptions that the technology was 'natural' or 'interfered with nature' – an interesting finding given those drawn from the previous study that revealed the importance of the moral dimension in determining acceptance. Students who were exposed to debate became more confident in their answers, while those who did not became less confident. They were also more likely to discuss the topic with family and friends, and become more aware of articles on the topic.The findings overall suggest that New Zealand consumers are currently unaware of, or disbelieving in, the benefits that genetic engineering can offer. Educating the public about these benefits will not necessarily make people more positively inclined towards the technology overall however. Rather, applications that will prove more universally acceptable will be those that either offer benefits that compensate for perceived risks and moral concerns of the application, or address those moral concerns directly.
|Year of publication:||
|Other Persons:||Graham Vaughan (contributor)|
|Type of publication:||Book / Working Paper|
|Type of publication (narrower categories):||Thesis|
PhD Thesis - University of Auckland
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