Survey shows EU citizens support stem cell research, but are still very negative about GM foods
By Stephen Pincock | June 26, 2006
European citizens are becoming more optimistic about most forms of biotechnology, including embryonic stem cell research, but still can?t be swayed from their distrust of genetically modified food, the latest Eurobarometer survey showed last week.
The survey of 25,000 people revealed a surge in positive responses for medical and industrial biotech relative to 2002, but concluded that widespread opposition to agricultural biotechnology remained in all but a few countries.
?Overall, Europeans think GM food should not be encouraged,? George Gaskell from the London School of Economics and his colleagues wrote in the report to the European Commission. ?GM food is widely seen as not being useful, as morally unacceptable, and as a risk for society.?
The survey showed that stem cell research was widely supported across Europe. Even embryonic stem cell research was supported by 59% of respondents.
As things stand, European Union law permits embryonic stem cell research, but leaves it up to each individual member country to make its own policy about whether it should be allowed.
Providing there is some level of regulation, an absolute majority of respondents in 15 of the EU?s 25 countries approved of embryonic stem cell use, the report showed. The main religious denomination of the country didn?t appear to be a decisive factor in shaping attitudes, Gaskell and colleagues note.
In Germany, where scientists are not allowed to create embryos to derive cells, or collaborate with anyone doing so, 54% of respondents said they approved of the technology, although some said it should be tightly controlled.
In Italy, a total of 66% of respondents were in favor of embryonic stem cell research. The country has long had one of Europe?s most stringent rules on embryo research, but in recent weeks the research minister Fabio Mussi suggested allowing such research might not be out of the question in the future.
Karim Nayernia, a German stem cell researcher who last week moved to the UK?s Newcastle University to conduct his research, said the findings reflect the views of many Germans that he has spoken to. ?Most of them think that it?s OK -- with some regulation, of course,? he told The Scientist.
Oliver Brustle from the University of Bonn said he hoped that politicians would heed these results. ?Governments have to listen to the majority opinion in their countries, to make this field? less restrictive, he said. ?At the least they should establish a framework within which collaboration between European laboratories is easier.?
On other topics, the European Union survey shows that the general public is largely supportive of developments in nanotechnology. EU citizens were also widely supportive of pharmacogenetics and gene therapy.
Among those who have made their mind up on GM food, 58% were opposed and 17% thought the technology was risky but useful, while 25% thought it should be encouraged and was not risky.
Adeline Farrelly, spokeswoman for industry group EuropaBio, noted that overall, the survey was positive for the biotech industry. Agricultural biotech may be less popular, she suggested, because consumers could not see benefits for themselves. ?In surveys like this there are a lot of nuances around the answers people give,? she told The Scientist. ?People seem to identify less with the benefits of GM foods compared with the other technologies.?
The report?s authors point out that Europeans are generally as optimistic as their peers in the US when it comes to technology. ?It is invalid to claim that European public opinion is a constraint to technological innovation,? they argue. Farrelly agreed. ?Europeans are not actually technophobes as some people have said in the past,? she noted.
Links within this article
Europeans and Biotechnology in 2005
Europeans and Biotechnology in 2002
S. Pincock, ?EU parliament backs embryo research,? The Scientist, June 16, 2006.
N. Stafford, ?Germany drafts stem cell plan,? The Scientist, May 26, 2005.
Open Letter to President Romano Prodi from European Consortium for Stem Cell Research
N. Stafford, ?New Swiss GM ban,? The Scientist, December 1, 2005.