, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 341-352
Date: 06 Oct 2006

Contextualizing farmers’ attitudes towards genetically modified crops

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Abstract

Analyses of the role of technological development in agriculture are central to an understanding of social change in agri-food systems. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the formation of a broader perspective of how farmers are positioning themselves with respect to controversial agricultural technologies through an empirical analysis of Washington State farmers’ willingness or unwillingness to try Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) technology on their farms. The use of this type of biotechnology in farming has been criticized for its potential harmful effects on natural environments and socio-cultural systems, while proponents highlight the possibilities for increasing production with minimal use of other inputs. An analysis of the extent of farmers’ expressed willingness to use GMOs provides an opportunity to better understand how their diverse thoughts about controversial agricultural technologies are shaped not only by their own experiences but also by social context. The present study does this by analyzing data from a farm survey conducted on a random sample of farmers from across Washington State. The results show that the production practices farmers utilize and the market strategies they employ may be at least as useful as farmers’ socio-economic characteristics in explaining what types of farmers appear to be more or less interested in potentially using this technology. Furthermore, the relationship between level of formal education and willingness to use GMOs is not straightforward. It may hide differences between farmers with respect to where and how they received their formal education as well as the type(s) of knowledge they gained. It is argued that future research should recognize the diversity that exists in farmers’ interests vis-á-vis particular technologies and should also explore how these interests are shaped by farmers’ past and present social networks and life experiences.

Kazumi Kondoh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Washington State University. Her research interests include environmental policies, science and technology, and sustainable agriculture.
Raymond Jussaume is an Professor and Chair, Community and Rural Sociology at Washington State University. His primary areas of interest are sociology of agriculture, development sociology, and political sociology.