An Analysis of Risk-Related Information Applied to the Controversy of Green Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

Bachelor Thesis 2005 81 Pages

Sociology - Miscellaneous



List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction
1.1 The Risk Controversy
1.2 Making a Decision About Risk
1.3 The Research Hypothesis
1.4 The Investigation of the Hypothesis
1.5 The Research Method
1.6 The Intended Significance

2 The Release of GM Maize in Brandenburg
2.1 The Legal Framework for Genetically Modified Crops
2.1.1 European Law
2.1.2 German Law
2.2 The Role of GM Maize in Brandenburg
2.2.1 Maize Cultivation in Brandenburg
2.2.2 The European Corn Borer
2.2.3 Is Bt-Maize the Solution?

3 The Risk Controversy
3.1 Chances
3.1.1 Economic Benefits
3.1.2 Health Benefits
3.1.3 Environmental Benefits
3.2 Risks
3.2.1 Economic Risks
3.2.2 Health Risks
3.2.3 Environmental Risks
3.3 Beyond the Controversy

4 An Introduction to Risk Perception
4.1 What's In a Risk?
4.2 Theories of Risk Perception
4.3 Factors Influencing Risk Perception

5 Risk Perception and the Role of Information
5.1 The Accessibility of the Issue
5.2 Qualities of the Risk
5.3 Probability Representation
5.4 Outcome Depiction
5.5 The Inconsistencies of Risk Representation

6 An Aspect of Risk Communication
6.1 Coming to Terms With the Term
6.2 The Elements of Communication
6.3 The Communication Language
6.4 The Objectives of Risk Communication
6.5 Limitations of Risk Communication
6.5.1 The Scientific Context
6.5.2 The Access to Information
6.5.3 The Diversity of Communicating Actors
6.6 Possibilities for Enhancing Risk Communication

7 A Method for the Assessment of Risk-Related Information
7.1 The Aim of the Analysis
7.2 The Benchmark
7.3 Aspects Analyzed
7.3.1 The Scope and Content of the Information
7.3.2 The Information Balance
7.3.3 The Transparency of Information
7.3.4 The Presentation of the Information
7.4 Why Not a Different Form of Analysis?

8 The Actors and Their Information
8.1 The Actors Involved in the GMO Introduction in Brandenburg
8.2 The German Federal Government
8.2.1 The Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture
8.2.2 The Federal Ministry of Education and Research
8.2.3 On the Selection Made
8.3 The Government of the Land Brandenburg
8.4 Bayer CropScience
8.5 Greenpeace
8.6 Interim Conclusion

9 Soliciting the Experts' Opinion: Method
9.1 The Open Qualitative Interview
9.2 Questioning Experts
9.3 The Diversity of Respondents

10 The Information Requirements
10.1 Between Source and Target
10.1.1 Making Information Accessible
10.1.2 Designing Information Which Reaches the Recipient
10.2 Background Information
10.2.1 Economic Information
10.2.2 Biotechnological Information
10.2.3 Political Information
10.2.4 Legal Information
10.2.5 Ecological Information
10.2.6 Information on Risks and Security
10.3 Depicting the Controversy
10.3.1 Both Sides of the Story
10.3.2 The Need to Persuade
10.3.3 Keeping the Peace
10.4 The Presentation Quality
10.4.1 Reliability of the Information
10.4.2 Intelligibility
10.4.3 Visual Presentation of the Information
10.5 One For All and All For One?

11 Conclusion
11.1 Prejudices about Information Needs
11.2 The Accuracy of the Perceived Information Needs
11.3 Recommendations and Outlook

Annex I: List of Interviewees

Annex II: Questions of the Analysis


List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1. Introduction

With widespread public participation in decision-making processes advancing to the status of a “normative goal of democracy”[1] (Renn 1998, 8), laws and regulations may succeed in increasing the amount of information available. Its quality, however, depends upon the interests which were pursued in its compilation and lies beyond the scope of legal influence.

The consequence is that decisions have to be made based on subjective information which potentially poses the problem of being mistaken for objective truth.

The aim of this paper is to investigate how information analysis might alleviate well-reflected decision-making in such situations.

Using the example of a currently highly controversial discussion about risk, the influence of information on the perception of options shall be examined. With the help of qualitative content analysis and expert-interviews, criteria for the decision-supporting information assessment are evaluated.

1.1 The Risk Controversy

In the German Land Brandenburg, the “Gene Monsters” are currently battling the “Super Crops” -- at least as far as public perception of the cultivation of genetically modified organisms in conventional agriculture goes. It could be for the better or the worse but that the widespread release of genetically modified crops will bring about drastic changes is undisputed. Some expect augmented yields, better crop quality and less troublesome cultivation. Others speak out warnings of ecological damage through biodiversity loss, economic dependence of farmers on the seeds industry and potential threats to human, plant, and animal health.

The cultivation of GMOs is widespread internationally.[2] For Brandenburg, the year 2005 marks a turning point. With the approval of the European Union, the genetically modified maize breed MON810 has been released commercially. Before, GMO cultivation in the region was only practiced for research purposes. The altered legal circumstances presented farmers with the option of cultivating a type of maize which is able to protect itself from the European corn borer, a very common pest in this crop.

1.2 Making a Decision About Risk

The decision required of the farmers is not one between wheat and barely. The unanimously acknowledged uncertainty due to the lack of long-term experience with GM crops[3] has aroused fear and opposition. In the extreme, individual farmers have been shunned or even harassed and fields which were suspected to contain GMOs have been destroyed. Thus, farmers have to consider not only the lacking experience with long-term effects of the crop but also with the short-term effects of vehement opposition.

Their final decision will reflect whether the farmers perceive the potential benefit or damage of cultivating GMOs to prevail. The personal history, social background, previous education, norms and values of the farmers will influence their perception of risk. In shaping risk perception, information plays a small but substantial role. Unlike other factors influencing risk perception, the information which decision-makers receive can be influenced directly by those communicating about risk, their interests affecting the material they produce.

1.3 The Research Hypothesis

The intelligible, comprehensive, and unbiased information needed to make well-reflected decisions is not available. The information recipients lack the means to directly influence the quality of the material which is offered to them. A method must be developed which encourages and enables critical and analytical reading in order to facilitate sound decision-making on the basis of subjective information.

1.4 The Investigation of the Hypothesis

Criteria according to which information can be assessed shall be proposed as a tool of analytical reading. From the current state of research on qualitative content analysis, especially with regard to risk communication, such criteria are derived.

In the analysis, the theoretically existent information which supports the recipient in building a well-informed opinion shall serve as the reference against which the aforementioned criteria are applied.

1.5 The Research Method

On the basis of theoretical investigation of the concepts of risk perception and the communication of risk-related information, the methods of qualitative content analysis and the qualitative interview shall serve to explore some of the currently published information on GMOs in agriculture. The analysis of the information material is complemented by a series of interviews with farmers in Brandenburg. Based on their experience with the option of GMO cultivation, the respondents provided a diversification of opinions and perspectives within this approach.

1.6 The Intended Significance

In combining the perspectives of the theoretical research in information analysis and practical experience with information application, some of the prerequisites of critical reading can be derived. This leads to recommendations as to how the task of making sound decisions on the basis of subjective information might be alleviated.

The biases, the unintelligibility, and the lack of comprehensiveness cannot be avoided in risk-related information but subjectivity need not be taken for objectivity.


[1] If decisions are to be made democratically and if the public is to be given more than a theoretical to participate in the process, then the access to information is essential (Turner et al. 1997).

[2] Currently approximately 809 thousand km² (Schmidt 2005).

[3] The GM seeds industry says it can predict the behaviour of the crop for a time frame of no more than 15-20 years (BASF PlantScience et al. 2003d).


File size
3 MB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus
Analysis Risk-Related Information Applied Controversy Green Genetic Engineering Agriculture




Title: An Analysis of Risk-Related Information Applied to the Controversy of Green Genetic Engineering in Agriculture