By JAMES TABABA
On September 22, 2023, a media conference titled “Revisiting Public Perception of Agricultural Biotechnology in the Philippines” was held. The conference aimed to present the findings of a study conducted by ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications), in partnership with the Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries Biotechnology Program of the Department of Agriculture (DA Biotech) and the UP Los Banos College of Development Communication. The study, titled “Public Perception of Agricultural Biotechnology in the Philippines: 16 Years After the Public Debates on GM Crops”, assesses the public perception of Filipino stakeholders on biotechnology.
The research was part of the collaborative project called “Know the Science”, which is a joint effort between ISAAA Inc. and DA Biotech. This project aims to increase public awareness and interest in modern biotechnology through various public engagement activities.
This study is a follow-up to a similar one conducted in 2006. The 2022 study engaged 1,180 respondents representing 10 provinces and nine stakeholder groups. These groups included businessmen and traders, consumers, extension workers, farmer leaders and community leaders, journalists, policymakers, religious leaders, and students. Data collection employed both a Google survey and field-administered surveys.
Here are the key findings of the study presented by Dr. Cleofe S. Torres, Adjunct Professor of the College of Development Communication at UP Los Banos and the principal investigator of the study.
Support for biotech in crop production
The study revealed support for biotechnology in crop production among Filipino stakeholders. They perceive it as a benefit for society, particularly in terms of enhancing food security and advancing medicine development.
Varied levels of knowledge
The study also unveiled disparities in knowledge levels among different stakeholder groups. Scientists, journalists, media persons, extension workers, and students emerged as the most informed groups. In contrast, religious leaders, policymakers, businessmen, traders, consumers, farmer leaders, and community leaders lagged behind in their understanding of biotechnology.
Trust in scientists
Scientists, despite being the most trusted sources of information on biotechnology, are often not readily accessible or visible in the community.
The role of social media
Social media platforms, particularly Facebook and YouTube, play a key role in shaping public opinion. Despite not being the most trusted sources, their widespread use and accessibility make them influential in many areas.
The study highlighted the need to educate stakeholders further about genes and viruses, as these were identified as the most misunderstood aspects of biotechnology. Misconceptions in these areas might have contributed to certain stakeholders’ reservations about biotech.
Optimism among scientists and journalists
Scientists and journalists or media persons emerged as the most supportive and optimistic groups regarding biotechnology.
Concerns about safety
While support for biotechnology in crop production was resoundingly high, concerns about safety and health impacts influence stakeholders’ decision-making processes.
Moral considerations in animal biotechnology
In contrast, biotechnology in animal production did not enjoy the same level of support. Moral considerations, particularly regarding respect for animal rights and welfare, were vital to stakeholders’ reservations about this field.
The study found that there was not much difference in the perception of stakeholders in areas with and without GMO bans. Stakeholders in both areas remained optimistic and supportive of biotechnology in crops, albeit with some reservations about biotech in animals.
A positive shift in perception
After nearly 16 years, there has been a notable improvement in several areas. Biotech information is now perceived as more useful, of better quality, and better understood. Biotech regulations are seen as protective of public safety and health. There is also increased motivation to participate in biotech-related activities, with the belief that these activities do not demand excessive time and financial resources. Moreover, there is a growing emphasis on the end uses of biotechnology, particularly in the context of food and medicines, which have become primary considerations in making decisions about biotech.