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Public Underst Sci. 2002 Apr;11(2):93-111.

Controversial medical and agri-food biotechnology: a cultivation analysis.

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Social Psychology, London School of Economics, Department of Social Psychology, UK.


Whether biotechnology is one or several developments is not clear. Once distinctions are required, the question is: Which one prevails? When the good, the bad, and the ugly settle, where do they fall? Evaluation implies distinction, and representation drives attitude. The controversies over biotechnology are fertile ground on which to study these issues. The imports of genetically modified (GM) soya into Europe in 1996-97 and the cloning of Dolly the sheep from adult cells in 1997 changed the symbolic environment for genetic engineering. The ensuing public controversies came to focus mainly on field trials of GM crops and food labeling. This paper will explore the relationship between quality press coverage and public perception, in particular the cultivation of the contrast between "desirable" biomedical (RED) and "undesirable" agri-food (GREEN) biotechnology in Britain. The argument draws on a systematic analysis of the British press coverage of biotechnology from 1973 to 1999 and analysis of public perceptions in 1996 and 1999. The paper concludes that the debate over GM crops and food ingredients fostered the RED-GREEN contrast among the newspaper-reading public, thereby shielding RED biotechnology from public controversy, and ushered in a realignment of the regulatory framework in 2000.

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