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The Media and Genetically Modified Foods: Evidence in Support of Social Amplification of Risk

Authors

  • Lynn J. Frewer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UA, UK
      *Address correspondence to Lynn J. Frewer, Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UA, UK; tel: 44 (0)1603 255000; fax: 44 (0)1603 507723; lynn.frewer@bbsrc.ac.uk.
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  • Susan Miles,

    1. Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UA, UK
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  • Roy Marsh

    1. Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UA, UK
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*Address correspondence to Lynn J. Frewer, Institute of Food Research, Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane, Norwich, NR4 7UA, UK; tel: 44 (0)1603 255000; fax: 44 (0)1603 507723; lynn.frewer@bbsrc.ac.uk.

Abstract

Empirical examinations of the “social amplification of risk” framework are rare, partly because of the difficulties in predicting when conditions likely to result in amplification effects will occur. This means that it is difficult to examine changes in risk perception that are contemporaneous with increases and/or decreases in social or media discussion of the risks associated with a particular risk event. However, the collection of attitude data before, during, and after the increased reporting of the risks of genetically modified food in the United Kingdom (spring 1999) has demonstrated that people's risk perceptions do increase and decrease in line with what might be expected upon examination of the amplification and attenuation mechanisms integral to the framework. Perceptions of benefit, however, appeared to be permanently depressed by negative reporting about genetically modified food. Trust in regulatory institutions with responsibility for protecting the public was not affected. It was concluded that the social amplification of risk framework is a useful framework for beginning to explain the potential impact on risk perceptions of a risk event, particularly if that risk event is presented to the public as a new hazard occurring in a crisis context.

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