Public Perceptions Of Biotechnology

Another issue of relevance to the US marine biotechnology industry is public perception of the industry and its products. To date, much public interaction with biotechnology has taken place in a negative context. The most notable clashes between the public and the biotechnology industry have involved concerns voiced regarding field testing of genetically engineered microbial pesticides, levels of bovine growth hormone in dairy products, and genetically engineered agricultural products. It may be, however, that these concerns arose from perceived levels of risk resulting from a lack of scientific understanding or from inadequate communication between the industry and the public sector (Fleising 1991).

Benefits to society resulting from biotechnological processes are rarely as well publicized as the risks. For example, the public has virtually no way of differentiating a biotechnologically derived pharmaceutical product from one that has been manufactured through other methods. Yet, it is likely that few individuals would decline an important medical treatment based on its origin.

Public perception has the potential to affect the development of the industry. In a survey conducted by the Center for the Study of Marine Policy, 65% of industry representatives reported that ethical issues and related public perceptions could affect development of the field (Cicin-Sain and others, Forthcoming).

Opportunities for increased public awareness include outreach associated with benefit-sharing agreements, such as the Merck-InBio partnership. Such partnerships can serve as a vehicle to highlight important uses and applications of marine biotechnology and to demonstrate partnerships that meet both goals of economic development and conservation and sustainable resource use. Additionally, educational venues—schools and learning centers, such as science centers and aquariums—could provide platforms to teach the public about biotechnology and its contributions to sustainable resource use and the protection of human health.

In summary, both policy issues and social perspectives may affect the advancement of the marine biotechnology industry. Additional research is needed to help in further articulating some of the policy frameworks that govern access to marine resources and field testing of new products and processes and to provide additional insight regarding public response to and reception of new biotechnology products and processes.

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