De evolutie en status van de publieke perceptie omtrent biotechnologische gewassen

Jasmien Maes
Gentse universiteitsstudenten zeggen ja, maar… tegen ggo’sAl van bij het begin kreeg de commercialisering van de moderne plantenbiotechnologie veel tegenkanting, vooral in Europa.  Er was en er is de angst voor controleverlies,  de onzekerheid over de veiligheid, een gebrek aan vertrouwen in de controleorganen. Maar ook de uitgekiende  anti-ggo-campagnes leidden bij de burger tot een negatieve perceptie rond ggo’s. En ook al mist ze elke wetenschappelijke grond, toch houden ook de politieke overheden er sterk rekening mee.

De evolutie en status van de publieke perceptie omtrent biotechnologische gewassen

Gentse universiteitsstudenten zeggen ja, maar… tegen ggo’s

Al van bij het begin kreeg de commercialisering van de moderne plantenbiotechnologie veel tegenkanting, vooral in Europa.  Er was en er is de angst voor controleverlies,  de onzekerheid over de veiligheid, een gebrek aan vertrouwen in de controleorganen. Maar ook de uitgekiende  anti-ggo-campagnes leidden bij de burger tot een negatieve perceptie rond ggo’s. En ook al mist ze elke wetenschappelijke grond, toch houden ook de politieke overheden er sterk rekening mee. Vele Europese politici weigeren ook nu nog steeds om wetenschappelijk gehonoreerde dossiers goed te keuren. Hierdoor wordt de commercialisering van biotechgewassen financieel verzwaard én op de lange baan geschoven. Europa staat meer en meer alleen met haar kritiek. Andere landen daarentegen, promoten de commercialisering van biotechgewassen steeds sterker. Waarom kunnen ggo’s wel op andere continenten en niet in Europa? En is de Europese opinie er wel zo sterk tegen gekant?

Ieders mening telt!

De perceptie over plantenbiotech is cruciaal in het ggo-debat.  Alle perceptieonderzoeken tot nog toe laten een kritische Europese consument zien. Genetische modificatietechnieken beschouwt hij als ‘onnatuurlijk’, biotechgewassen als potentieel gevaarlijk voor de volksgezondheid, het milieu en de biodiversiteit en oorzaak van socio-economische wantoestanden. Dat is ook het dominante beeld in de media en politiek. “Uit  het Eurobarometer onderzoek blijkt dat 70 procent van de Europese burgers geen ggo’s op hun bord willen”, aldus Bart Staes, Europees parlementslid voor  Groen. Ook andere anti-ggo-bewegingen maken vlijtig gebruik van dit citaat. Maar wat blijkt? De vraag waarop dit citaat het antwoord is, staat niet eens in de vragenlijst van het Eurobarometer onderzoek.

Het perceptieonderzoek tot nog toe is echter vaak ongenuanceerd in zijn vraagstelling en interpretatie van de resultaten. Zelden staat het stil bij wat de visie van de consument op biotechgewassen kan beïnvloeden. Bovendien ontbreekt bij de huidige generatie biotechgewassen nog al te vaak direct waarneembare voordelen voor de consument.

Er is dus nood aan een diepgaander en meer genuanceerd onderzoek. In het ggo-debat is een correcte stand van zaken primordiaal. En precies omdat dat debat  zich niet beperkt tot de exacte wetenschappen maar sterk emotioneel geladen is,  dienden zowel de wetenschappelijke literatuur alsook websites, persartikels en voorgaande enquêtes geanalyseerd te worden vooraleer er voldoende materiaal voor handen was om zelf een meer genuanceerde vragenlijst op te opstellen. Met deze vragenlijst wilden we een perceptieonderzoek verrichten bij de huidige Gentse universiteitsstudenten en de resultaten ervan in kaart brengen. Dit onderzoek ging van start naar aanleiding van de vernietiging van de Wetterse aardappelveldproef (lente 2011) waarna het ggo-debat in Vlaanderen weer volop woedde.

Het verdict: de kracht van kennis

934 studenten, man en vrouw, verspreid over alle faculteiten en studiejaren vulden deze extensieve vragenlijst in. We wilden vooral naar de mening van de studenten peilen. Een gevarieerd aantal bestaande en toekomstige biotechnologische toepassing werden onder de vorm van eenvoudige casussen aangeboden. De nadruk lag vooral op plantenbiotechnologie, de achillespees van dit onderzoeksdomein en wat blijkt? De studenten staan opvallend positief tegenover biotechgewassen en hun mogelijk potentieel in de landbouw. Het enthousiasme was het minst over de aanmaak van farmaceutische eiwitten in dieren. Biobrandstoffen en vooral stamceltherapie worden beschouwd als de pareltjes van de biotechnologie. Het is belangrijk om op te merken dat geen enkele toepassing echt slecht scoorde. Dit perceptiegedeelte werd verder uitgediept met een reeks stellingen  waarmee de studenten al dan niet akkoord konden gaan. Hieruit bleek onder andere dat de studenten het vooral moeilijk hebben als het om patenten gaat. Meer dan de helft geeft aan dat het huidig patentenbeleid vooral leidt tot nefaste gevolgen voor de voedselvoorziening. De meerderheid vindt bovendien dat plantenbiotechbedrijven meer uit zijn op winst dan bedrijven uit de farma-industrie. Multinationals spelen volgens de studenten een negatievere rol in de landbouw dan in de gezondheidssector. De medische industrie wordt immers gezien als tegemoetkomend aan reële behoeften, terwijl de toepassingen in de voedselindustrie eerder gezien worden als scheppers van behoefte.

Naast de mening werd ook de basiskennis van de deelnemers getoetst. Wat was hun wetenschappelijke voorkennis? Wat wisten ze over commercialisering, politiek en regelgeving? Gemiddeld behaalden de deelnemers een score van 14/20. Hoe minder hun opleiding met biotechnologie te maken had, hoe lager de score. Bovendien geldt dat studenten die goed op de kennisvragen scoorden, ook positiever stonden tegenover biotechgewassen. Kennis blijkt wel degelijk een belangrijke rol in de preceptievorming te spelen. Hiermee wordt nog maar eens het belang van wetenschappelijke informatie naar het brede publiek toe geïllustreerd.

Een andere zeer belangrijke invloedsfactor is het vertrouwen in de informatiebron. Daarom lieten we de deelnemers verschillende informatiebronnen over ggo’s rangschikken naargelang hun betrouwbaarheid. Wie de informatie van groene bewegingen hoog inschat en die van  plantenbiotechnologen verbonden met multinationals laag, heeft een negatievere kijk op de biotechtoepassingen.

Vernieuwend aan dit onderzoek is dat we perceptie ook hebben proberen te linken aan een aantal persoonlijkheidskenmerken. Zo stonden studenten die via zelfevaluerende vragen aangaven dat ze bijvoorbeeld snel angstig waren minder positief tegenover biotechgewassen dan studenten die dit niet waren.  Steeds meer anti-ggo-groeperingen spelen met hun reclamecampagnes in op de emoties van de burgers. Het is daarom noodzakelijk om de impact van dit verband in de toekomst verder te bestuderen.

Is het keerpunt nabij?

Het feit dat de hoogopgeleide student aan de Gentse universiteit positief staat tegenover ggo’s is echter geen garantie dat dit ook geldt voor de volledige Vlaamse bevolking. We stelden duidelijk een verband vast  tussen perceptie en kennis. Gelukkig is er nu een enquête die, mits een aantal kleine aanpassingen, klaar is voor het grote publiek. Verder blijft communicatie ontzettend belangrijk: de stem van plantenbiotechnologen moet sterker op het beleid wegen. Alleen zo kunnen we de misleidende communicatie van de anti-biotech-lobby ontmaskeren. 

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