Newswise — Genetically modified foods (GMFs) and agricultural biotechnology have generated considerable attention, as well as controversy, since their introduction in the mid-1990s with the media playing a key role in fueling the public debate. A study from the University of Missouri-Columbia shows that media in the United States and the United Kingdom have focused more on the environmental risks, rather than the benefits, of GMFs and agricultural biotechnology.
The study, led by Leonie Marks and Nick Kalaitzandonakes, professors in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, used two opinion-leading daily newspapers from the United Kingdom and three from the United States as the basis for a 12-year content analysis on coverage of the topics.
"Despite a low level of coverage of environmental issues, on both sides of the Atlantic the findings show environmental risks rather than benefits have been the focus of newspaper reporting," Kalaitzandonakes said. "On balance, the United Kingdom has been more negative than the United States."
The researchers conclude that the way the media covers events related to GMFs and agricultural biotechnology has immediate and long-term implications for agribusiness.
"As consumers increasingly gain an understanding of food production and marketing through the media, agribusinesses will be increasingly affected by how global media outlets report on food issues over time," Kalaitzandonakes said.
The impact of the media is amplified in the United States, Kalaitzandonakes said, because increasingly fewer people are involved in agricultural production here. As this personal contact and one-on-one experience with agricultural production diminishes, consumers often rely upon impersonal sources such as the media for information.
Studies have shown that today, more than 90 percent of consumers receive information about food and biotechnology primarily through the press and television.