Public perceptions of biotechnology

Biotechnol J. 2007 Sep;2(9):1105-11. doi: 10.1002/biot.200700071.


The very term 'Biotechnology' elicits a range of emotions, from wonder and awe to downright fear and hostility. This is especially true among non-scientists, particularly in respect of agricultural and food biotechnology. These emotions indicate just how poorly understood agricultural biotechnology is and the need for accurate, dispassionate information in the public sphere to allow a rational public debate on the actual, as opposed to the perceived, risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology. This review considers first the current state of public knowledge on agricultural biotechnology, and then explores some of the popular misperceptions and logical inconsistencies in both Europe and North America. I then consider the problem of widespread scientific illiteracy, and the role of the popular media in instilling and perpetuating misperceptions. The impact of inappropriate efforts to provide 'balance' in a news story, and of belief systems and faith also impinges on public scientific illiteracy. Getting away from the abstract, we explore a more concrete example of the contrasting approach to agricultural biotechnology adoption between Europe and North America, in considering divergent approaches to enabling coexistence in farming practices. I then question who benefits from agricultural biotechnology. Is it only the big companies, or is it society at large--and the environment--also deriving some benefit? Finally, a crucial aspect in such a technologically complex issue, ordinary and intelligent non-scientifically trained consumers cannot be expected to learn the intricacies of the technology to enable a personal choice to support or reject biotechnology products. The only reasonable and pragmatic alternative is to place trust in someone to provide honest advice. But who, working in the public interest, is best suited to provide informed and accessible, but objective, advice to wary consumers?

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology / trends*
  • Communication*
  • European Union
  • Information Dissemination / methods*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Public Relations / trends*