Biotechnologies between responsability and Innovation

The second survey of ‘Biotechnologies and public opinion in Italy’, resulting from a cooperation between the Fondazione Giannino Bassetti Poster research centre and Observa’s researchers analyses the orientation of public opinion on biotechnological research and its applications, with a particular focus on what Italians really know in this field, on the role of the media in scientific disclosure and on the subjects of the decision-making process and responsibility in the field of biotechnological innovation.

The application of biotechnologies to foods still has clear opposition in Italy. Only one Italian in five would prefer foods produced with genetically modified organisms, even if they had more flavour than those currently available, and only one in ten would buy GMO foods, even if they cost less than traditional ones. 60% do not even think the fight against world hunger justifies the risks of research in this sector.

The most cautiously positive appraisal is related to health. Italians regard the main usefulness of genetic testing as the identification of genetic predispositions towards certain illnesses, associated with lower risk and greater acceptability on a moral level. However, while genetically altering animals to create organs for human transplant is thought useful and morally acceptable by half of those interviewed, the use of embryos for research is perceived as risky by two thirds of the sample, and less than one third think it morally acceptable.

The distinction between cloning to allow people to have children and therapeutic cloning is therefore very clear: while the former is rejected, the second divides public opinion. 70% think recourse to reproductive cloning is unnecessary, 65% think it risky and 65% morally unacceptable. The situation regarding therapeutic cloning, or the possibility of extracting stem cells from extra embryos resulting from artificial insemination or from specially produced embryos is uncertain, clearly highlighted by the high percentage of ‘don’t knows’ (13%).

Biotech research and applications: the government should decide, provided the public are involved.

On the question of the decision-making process regarding the research and application of biotechnological science, 37% of those interviewed think the government should make the decisions, and 54% think it responsible for any risks deriving from the decisions made. However, one interviewee in four thinks that the first who should be consulted in regulating such practices are consumer and other public safeguard organisations. Consumer organisations are also thought by 40% of those interviewed to be the most authoritative source of information on biotechnology, followed in second place by scientists and universities (20%).

The survey was conducted on a sample of 1017 people over the age of 18 and highlights how poorly-informed Italians are on biotechnologies, and the trend is certainly not comforting: compared to the survey made in 2000, the number of those admitting their own ignorance of the matter has increased (on average, four Italians in ten). In any case, information has little effect on Italians’ opinion of biotechnology applications, and this is not significantly influenced by either their level of exposure to scientific disclosure in the media, or the degree to which they are already informed. The element that counts seems in this case to be trust in science: 34% of the most trusting, for example, think that reproductive cloning is useful, while that percentage is halved amongst the less trusting.

Download a Synopsis of Results (PDF, ca. 300 KB)

The survey was carried out under the scientific supervision of Federico Neresini (Padua University), Massimiano Bucchi (Trento University) and Giuseppe Pellegrini (Padua University).

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