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Explaining Public Resistance to Genetically Modified Corn: An Analysis of the Distribution of Benefits and Risks


*Assistant Professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Pittsburgh, Crabtree Hall, 130 DeSoto St., Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA;


Genetically modified (GM) crops have met with widespread approval among scientists and policy makers in the United States, but public approval of GM crops, both domestically and abroad, is progressing much more slowly. An underlying cause of public wariness may be that both nations and individual consumers do not perceive significant benefits to themselves from GM crops, while fearing the risks they may incur. In this study, an economic analysis is conducted to determine whether the benefits of one type of GM corn, Bt corn (genetically modified to resist damage from the ECB and Southwestern corn borer), outweigh the potential risks; and who the “winners” and “losers” are among stakeholder groups that may be affected by Bt corn. It is found that Bt corn growers, consumers, and industry all benefit from Bt corn adoption, though the purported health and environmental benefits of reducing chemical pesticide usage through Bt corn are negligible. Though the aggregated public benefit is large, the welfare gain to individual consumers is small and may not make up for perceived risks. While environmental and health risks of Bt corn are unlikely, the potential market risks—impacting both the organic corn market and total U.S. corn exports—are found to be significant. Currently, distributional analysis is not a part of regulatory decision making of Bt corn in the United States; yet it may help to explain why decision makers at both the government and individual-consumer levels have failed to embrace Bt corn and other GM crops.