Date of Graduation

8-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science in Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences

Degree Level

Undergraduate

Department

Agricultural Education, Communications and Technology

Advisor

Edgar, Leslie D

Reader

Popp, Jennie S

Second Reader

Cox, Casandra

Third Reader

Miller, Jefferson D

Abstract

It is widely known that Europeans have the strongest resistance to genetically modified organisms (GMO). Despite biotechnology advancements in the United States and other countries, European Union (EU) policymakers continue to argue over market-driven GMO regulations. Because humans depend on agriculture for survival, they tend to be concerned with the fundamental risk of combining agricultural production and scientific/technological advancements. In 2011, scientists at a large research institution in Belgium planted a field trial of GM potatoes (during this time GM foods were not in the market). On May 29, an activist group arrived at the field and uprooted the potatoes. The event resulted in scientific damage, media coverage, a court trial for defacing government property, and mixed perceptions among the public. This study examined the perceptions, knowledge, and awareness of GMOs among a purposive sample of Belgian public to determine the need for various educational programs concerning GMOs. Ten emergent themes occurred: 1) variation in GMO definitions; 2) concerns about potential economic risks; 3) concerns about potential environmental risks; 4) media influence; 5) government involvement; 6) public perceptions/opinions; 7) potato event impact; 8) perception of medical biotechnology; 9) awareness of GM food; and 10) concerns about potential health risks. All respondents recognized that a GMO was genetically engineered for a specific purpose such as higher yield, lower costs, and less negative environmental impact. Many respondents noted the main reason behind the activist actions was fear of monopolistic corporations. Respondents were more concerned with economic effects of GMOs than environmental or health risks. Respondents also expressed the need for more scientific communication. This study brings a clearer understanding of consumer perceptions of GM technology and food in Belgium, which can be pivotal to understand if Europe fully embraces GM technology in the future. These findings support the conclusion that educational campaigns and programs about GMOs will provide the primarily urban Belgian public with objective knowledge to guide perceptions, knowledge, and awareness of GMOs.

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