Risk communication and biotechnology: a discourse perspective



Publication Details

Leitch, S. R. & Motion, J. M. (2009). Risk communication and biotechnology: a discourse perspective. In R. L. Heath & H. O''Hair (Eds.), Handbook of Risk and Crisis Communication (pp. 560-574). New York: Routledge.


During the closing years of the twentieth century, biotechnology overtook nuclear physics as the most controversial public issue in relation to scientific endeavour. The growing ability to manipulate genes, the basic building blocks of all life forms, gave rise to a range of environmental, economic, political, ethical, culrural, and spiritual concerns. Scientists and governments found themselves ill-prepared to deal with the complex issues associated with these concerns. Opposition to the technologies of genetic modification (GM) coalesced into an international social movement which saw citizens staging varying forms of protest action ranging from civil disobedience to attacks on laboratories and threats against the lives of scientists (Pringle, 2003). In India, peasant farmers marched against the Monsanto "terminator gene" which threatened the traditional practice of seed-saving from harvest to harvest. In the UK, activists dressed as mutant vegetables and danced on supermarket roofs to draw attention to the GM food sold inside and all around the world thousands of people rallied in their capital cities and signed petitions calling for a halt to the release of GM organisms into the environment. The dominant message from those opposed to GM was that the risks of these new technologies were unknown and potentially too great to allow scientists and the biotechnology industry to proceed.

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