Multiple aspects of unnaturalness: are cisgenic crops perceived as being more natural and more acceptable than transgenic crops?

Abstract

In Europe the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in food production has so far failed to gain wide public approval. Ordinary people are concerned about issues not covered by the existing regulation, including usefulness and unnaturalness. In response, particularly to worries about unnaturalness, biotechnologists have suggested that inserted genes should derive only from the plant itself, or from close relatives. This paper examines public perceptions of these so-called ‘cisgenic crops’ and asks whether the public shares the idea that they are less unnatural and thus more acceptable than transgenic plants. Using five focus group interviews, we identified five lines of argument about naturalness with a bearing on the assessment of cisgenic crops as well as GM crops in general. The paper concludes that, depending on perceptions of naturalness, some people would agree that cisgenic crops are more acceptable than their transgenic counterparts. The finding that ordinary people value different aspects of naturalness may be relevant to a broader audience than just those interested in gene technology. It cautions against a simplistic interpretation of what counts as ‘natural’.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by the Danish Food Industry Agency.

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Correspondence to Henrik Mielby.

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Mielby, H., Sandøe, P. & Lassen, J. Multiple aspects of unnaturalness: are cisgenic crops perceived as being more natural and more acceptable than transgenic crops?. Agric Hum Values 30, 471–480 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-013-9430-1

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Keywords

  • Naturalness
  • Public attitudes
  • GMOs
  • Cisgenesis
  • Focus groups