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Consumer attitudes to GM changing, survey finds 

Public support for genetic modification in medicine has risen significantly over the past two years, an AgResearch survey has found.

Speaking at the Impacts of Emerging Biotechnologies Symposium, AgResearch scientist Bruce Small said preliminary results from consumer surveys conducted in May 2001 and May 2003 also indicated a significant decline in opposition to the use of GM in food and medicine. Four times as many people totally supported GM in medicine as were totally opposed in the most recent survey. Total opposition to GM food decreased from 36% in 2001 to 26% in 2003. However, total opposition to GM food is still three times as great as total support.

In 2003, 8% of survey participants totally supported GM food applications, while a further 60% were prepared to support them under some circumstances. While 32% gave total support to GM medicine, a further 57% were prepared to support medical applications of GM under some circumstances. Over 70 percent agreed it was necessary to make judgements on a case-by-case basis, which is in-line with the Government's intention in assessing applications when the moratorium ends on 29 October.

The survey also found that people are becoming more comfortable with the idea of using GM technology, with the number of those agreeing or strongly agreeing that it fits with their cultural and spiritual beliefs more than doubling from 9% to 25% between 2001 and 2003. The number of those who disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement decreased from 60% to 37%, with a further 33% of respondents being neutral in 2003.

Those who agreed or strongly agreed that GM technology fits with their basic principles increased from 12% to 32% while those disagreeing or strongly disagreeing decreased from 61% to 38%, with a further 30% being neutral in 2003. These results indicate an important change in public values towards acceptance of GM in the past two years with 41% now agreeing or strongly agreeing that it is acceptable to genetically modify organisms for human benefit.

Data was collected from two random postal surveys of the New Zealand public in 2001 and 2003. Over 2,650 surveys were collected with an up to 3 percent margin of error.

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