Public Trust and Risk Perceptions: A Preliminary Study of Taiwan's GMOs, 2003-2004

Chou Kuei Tien
Graduate Institute of National Development, National Taiwan University.

This paper mainly discusses public perceptions and attitudes towards genetically modified organism (GMO) disputes by comparing the results of two annual national telephone surveys. The themes of the surveys include risk perception, risk assessment, risk communication, public participation, and public trust, and they examined the public's attitudes towards general GMO knowledge, GMO policy, and GMO risk, as well as the government's ability to engage in GMO risk governance.

The initial analysis shows that Taiwan's consumers are somewhat unfamiliar with genetically modified (GM) foods. A considerable percentage of the respondents had not heard of GMOs. Combining the findings of this research with those of the author's related research, we know that unawareness of high-tech risks is embedded in Taiwanese society. Consequently, the gap between action and delayed risk perception that merges in such a risk culture is characterized by institutional and individual unawareness. Meanwhile, according to the follow-up analysis, respondents who have heard of GM foods possess different ideologies in terms of risk perception and the scope of risk assessment than national technocrats and science experts. Furthermore, the public deems the channels of transparent risk information, communication, propagation, and public participation to be highly deserving of improvement.

As a whole, the public has expectations about the institutional practices associated with high-tech risks. However, owing to the lack of communication and participation mechanisms, a long-running, hidden structure of high-tech risk has developed. With regard to risk perception, assessment, and concerns about GM foods, the public distrusts the state's and technocrats' risk discourses. The initial findings of this research indicate that the hidden risk structure is eroding public trust.

Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology and Medicine, Number 4 (April 2007), 151-178