Does the term “genetically-edited food” sound appetizing, or does it inspire skepticism about what is on the table? The answer could be dependent on if you live in a country that strictly regulates genetically edited food and on the way the information was presented, according to a team from Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS) in Japan. The researchers analyzed the public perceptions of the risks and benefits of gene editing of food crops in the United States, Japan, and Germany. They found that of these groups, American participants had the most positive perception and German participants the most negative, with Japanese participants assessing the risks similarly to the Germans but the benefits similarly to the Americans.
The results were published in Science, Technology, & Human Values on October 17, 2022.（https://doi.org/10.1177/01622439221123830）
“We set out to understand how different regulatory measures for biotechnology in the U.S., European Union and Japan impact public perceptions by statistically examining the variations in the mean values of public perceptions of risks and benefits of the application of gene editing technology to food crops among the three countries,” said corresponding author Naoko Kato-Nitta, associate professor at the Joint Support Center for Data Science Research and the Institute of Statistical Mathematics, Research Organization of Information and Systems, Tokyo. “Further, we wanted to statistically examine how different information provision affects the above people’s perceptions in the three study countries of risks and benefits toward gene-edited crops.”
The U.S., Germany and Japan all have different levels of regulation when it comes to biotechnology use for food crops. According to the researchers, in 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that gene edited food should be regulated in the same way as genetically modified crops, while the U.S. exempts most crops using gene editing from regulation. Japan imports large quantities of GM crops but has labelling requirements and has taken a cautious stance on domestic cultivation of GM crops. The researchers selected these countries for the study in part because they could exemplify industrialized countries from around the globe with differing policies, which potentially could impact public perception.
“To understand people’s attitudes toward the application of genome editing technology to food crops by statistically examining differences in perceived risks and benefits across nations, it is important to gain insight into how the underlying political culture affects their attitudes,” Kato-Nitta said.
When conducting the survey in these three countries, the researchers divided each country’s participants into two groups. One group was presented with the information on gene editing using animal illustrations, and one group was presented with gene editing using plant illustrations. The researchers then assessed the perceptions of the risks and benefits of gene editing of agricultural crops in each of two categories across the three countries for a total of six groups. In all groups, the surveys first assessed if participants were aware of gene editing and to what degree.
The researchers found that the U.S. participants perceived the highest benefits and lowest risks of the groups. According to the researchers, this result validates their assumption that public attitudes toward gene editing are more positive in a country with less strict gene-editing regulations. While there was no statistical difference between Japan and Germany for the risk perceptions, the Japanese participants perceived greater benefits. The German participants also had less exposure to beneficial aspects of gene-editing information, which the researchers posit could account for why they perceived the least benefit and greatest risk. The study also found that the U.S. participants’ perceptions were not as influenced by whether they received an explanatory illustration with an animal or with a plant as those in Germany or Japan, possibly because of their greater previous exposure to gene-editing information.
Kato-Nitta said that the next steps include extending this type of research to other emerging science and technology to assess public perception.
“My ultimate goal is to more comprehensively understand the key factors that affect people’s perceptions of risks and benefits toward emerging science based on empirical results and to establish a new model of science communication,” she said.
The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the JST Program on Open Innovation Platform with Enterprises, Research Institute and Academia (OPERA) gene editing consortium grant.
The other authors of this paper are Masashi Tachikawa, professor in the department of sociology at the Nagoya University; Yusuke Inagaki, statistical specialist in the Statistics Bureau of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan, and visiting associate professor at the Institute of Statistical Mathematics and Joint Support Center for Data Science Research; and Tadahiko Maeda, associate professor at the Joint Support Center for Data Science Research, ROIS.
About the Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research (ROIS-DS)
The Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research (ROIS-DS) is a part of Japan's Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS). Established in 2016, ROIS-DS is a joint research center for the advancement of interdisciplinary data science. The center's mission is to support wide range of researchers and students to conduct research in data-sciences in the hope of solving scientific and social problems. The center aims to cultivate and strengthen collaboration and cooperation among universities and other institutions by promoting data sharing and providing data analysis support across disciplines, as well as helping human resource development related to data science.
About the Institute of Statistical Mathematics
The Institute of Statistical Mathematics (ISM) is part of Japan's Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS). With more than 75 years of history, the institute is an internationally renowned facility for research on statistical mathematics including survey research and the Japanese national character survey. ISM comprises three different departments including the Department of Statistical Modeling, the Department of Statistical Data Science, and the Department of Statistical Inference and Mathematics, as well as several key data and research centers. Through the efforts of various research departments and centers, ISM aims to continuously facilitate cutting edge research collaboration with universities, research institutions, and industries both in Japan and other countries.
About the Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS)
ROIS is a parent organization of four national institutes (National Institute of Polar Research, National Institute of Informatics, the Institute of Statistical Mathematics and National Institute of Genetics) and the Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research. It is ROIS's mission to promote integrated, cutting-edge research that goes beyond the barriers of these institutions, in addition to facilitating their research activities, as members of inter-university research institutes.
Science Technology & Human Values
Public Perceptions of Risks and Benefits of Gene-edited Food Crops: An International Comparative Study between the US, Japan, and Germany
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