, Volume 21, Issue 6, pp 541-558
Date: 12 Aug 2008

Understanding the Scope of Farmer Perceptions of Risk: Considering Farmer Opinions on the Use of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops as a Stakeholder Voice in Policy

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Abstract

In the beginning, policy debates between critics and advocates of genetically modified (GM) crops focused on scientifically determined risks. Ten years later, the argument between environmentalists or consumers and regulators or industry has changed into a discussion about the implementation of more democratic policymaking about GM farming. A notable omission from the political debate about food biotechnology in the United States, however, is the opinion of farmers who cultivate the GM crops. Policymakers should value practical knowledge based on experiences from farmers, not only scientific industry reports or consumer product opinions. This project uses in-depth interviews to create an original mail survey that uses the practical discourse of farmers in order to explore the relationship of farmer attitudes and GM agriculture. Although national research indicates that larger yields are the most common reason for GM adoption, qualitative information suggest that the potential of GM crops to increase revenue per acre does not truly reflect all the concerns of modern farmers. For example, farmers who use GM seeds indicate that they constantly question the social impacts of their agricultural practices. As such, GM policies should be restructured as a political rationalization of both economic modeling and political theory because this research suggests that farmers’ business decisions are utility calucations that consider economics without ignoring environmental and political contexts. Farmers’ concerns about non-economic risks suggest that they need more information about GM crops and that governmental policies should respond to their interests, as they are more democratic or pluralistic than industry or consumer arguments.