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Public Opinion, Risk Assessment, and Biotechnology: Lessons from Attitudes toward Genetically Modified Foods in the European Union



Proponents of biotechnology argue that citizens' opposition to innovations such as genetically modified (GM) foods is rooted in emotionalism, media and nongovernmental organizations' distortions of good science, and scientific ignorance. Critics charge that this “risk management discursive” is too reductionist, exaggerates scientific capacity, inappropriately privileges scientific values over social and political values, and inaccurately captures how citizens evaluate biotechnology. This article uses ordered logit analysis applied to the responses of Europeans to a 2005 Eurobarometer survey to test the validity of these competing perspectives in the area of GM foods. Our analysis supports the arguments of those calling for the inclusion of broader discursive social, political, and cultural elements in deliberations over GM foods. Analysis also shows that citizens are less emotional in evaluating GM foods than proponents claim and supports this “new politics of knowledge” perspective, but citizens also cling more tightly to hopes that science can resolve debates with objective analysis.