Risk Assessment and the WTO
Edited by David Robertson and Aynsley Kellow
Chapter 8: Public perceptions, risk communication and biotechnology
Christine R. Deane INTRODUCTION Modern biotechnology is a powerful, rapidly advancing technology, with the capacity to alter our way of life. It is viewed as an important tool, with the potential to improve living standards, but also as potentially hazardous and open to abuse. Individual attitudes to biotechnology are formed by complex interactions of socioeconomic factors, personal values, education and the attitudes of the society to which each individual belongs. Advances in biotechnology are accompanied by apprehension about safety, legal, ethical, social and economic concerns. This leads to debate among the ‘stakeholders’, and gives rise to emotive campaigning. As with any technology, biotechnology is neither inherently good nor bad, it simply provides a set of tools for the genetic manipulation of organisms. It is the application of this technology that determines whether it is beneficial or harmful. How biotechnology is applied to agriculture and medicine is a question for society as a whole. Biotechnology can help to solve many problems. For example, farmers encounter increasing demands from consumers for improved quality and to reduce chemical residues. There is also a demand to achieve more sustainable agriculture, and biotechnology can make a major contribution to this. The impact of the first genetically modified crops has already been observed. The US agrichemical industry has recorded reductions in herbicide sales following the introduction of transgenic herbicide tolerant crops. Medical applications of biotechnology have paved the way for treating many serious ailments. Diagnostic tests are being developed that can identify carriers of genes linked...
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