Americans Express Skepticism About New Uses of Genetic Engineering

Americans Express Skepticism About New Uses of Genetic Engineering

Americans disagree with the idea of genetically modifying insects and fish but are less concerned about applying the technology to plants, according to a Zogby International poll released today by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology and the Gene Media Forum.

In spite of the public health benefits and production efficiencies that some believe could come from efforts to genetically engineer mosquitoes and fish, most Americans seem uncomfortable with the idea of genetically modifying these creatures. More than half of poll respondents (53 percent) reported they disagreed with genetically modifying insects, even when told the outcome could be a mosquito incapable of transmitting malaria, while 39 percent agreed. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they did not approve of genetically modifying salmon to grow more quickly, even if this development could lead to lower consumer prices--with half as many (30 percent) agreeing.

Respondents were more supportive of using genetic technology to create plants that have human health benefits. Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) said they agree with the idea of genetically modifying plants to contain vaccines capable of preventing health problems such as blindness; however, almost as many respondents (45 percent) said they disagreed with the use of biotechnology for this purpose.

The poll was released as part of a panel discussion hosted by the Initiative and the Forum titled “The Gene Is Out of the Bottle: Where to Next?” The panel, which explored future agricultural applications of genetic engineering, was moderated by Michael Rodemeyer, executive director of the Initiative, and featured Dr. Charles Beard of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Bruce Chassy from the Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois, Dr. Anne Kapuscinski from the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at the University of Minnesota and Dr.Doreen Stabinsky, science advisor for Greenpeace's Genetic Engineering Campaign.

“This split among the American public concerning the benefits and risks of this emerging technology underscores the difficulty of making public policy decisions in this area,” said Mr. Rodemeyer. “Therefore, it is very important that platforms are created where the many viewpoints on this issue can be discussed and debated.”

“By giving the media the opportunity to hear about the genetic engineering developments with insects, fish and plants, we hope to enrich the public's knowledge of the scope of this new technology,” said Alan McGowan, president of the Gene Media Forum.

The poll, part of a nationwide omnibus survey of 1,233 adults 18 and older, was conducted by Zogby International from May 14 –18, 2001. The margin of error is +/-3.0 percent.