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Lessons on Communication with the Public on GM Food Safety in China

Haiyan Deng, Ruifa Hu, Jikun Huang


Despite rapid expansion of biotech crops, fierce debates about genetically modified(GM) technology in China has still continued and the proportion of Chinese consumers who consider food unsafe has largely increased in the last decade. To obtain a better understanding of this significant change, we surveyed the public, media, firm managers, and government officials in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to capture the major reasons of the hardship in biotech development in China. The results show that rising public concern about GM food might be attributed to public distrust in biotech scientists, prevalence of GM rumors, food safety scandals and numerous negative reports by the media in China. Although it should be the responsibility of scientists, media, and government to communicate with the public, scientists poorly and ineffectively respond to the misinformation, media lack of competent knowledge to help the public well understand biotechnology, and the government develops strict policies and enforcement on biosafety in the intense GM debate. All these activities failed to convince the public that GM food is safe for consumption. Moreover, the rising public concern about the safety of GM food have affected government officials’ views on GMOs, which might further affect biotech policy in the future. Therefore, we conclude that greater emphasis is needed on closer dialogue between the media and scientific community about scientific finding to improve the public’s biotech knowledge, training scientists to be good communicators to better communicate with the public and establishing science-based policies for the healthy development of GM technology in China.

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