Flavor and aroma compounds are essential for a wide range of everyday products (e.g. food, scent and care), but most of these substances are produced on a petrochemical basis. New biotechnological procedures are intended to replace those conventional methods, especially in terms of sustainability. However, public discourse and consumer assumptions about using micro-organisms and synthetic biology for e.g. flavor production seem to be quite skeptical. The present research explored the beliefsand judgments of both consumers and experts regarding the future use of flavor and aromabiotechnology. The analysis of dimensions which stakeholders and (future) consumers considerproblematic serves as a base for applying conceptual knowledge on public acceptance of new technology and prediction of communication challenges. We thus conducted qualitative interviews with 10 experts (e.g. academics, NGOs) on biotechnology and with 10 laypersons. Findings indicate that consumers tend to worry about industrial agents with mere capitalist interests abusing the ‘secret’, uncontrollable biotechnology for delivering dangerous or disgusting food products. A clear preference for authentic, natural foods emerged that implies a structural conflict with the ‘manufactured’, artificial processes of biotechnology. Consumers either rejected biotechnology for this reason entirely or insisted on strong governmental control of production and/or clear product
labeling. Experts identified a broad set of dimensions of possible communication conflicts: Referring to the public debate about genetic engineering researchers and industry representatives complained about news media reporting that is heavily influenced by NGOs. The ‘absolutism’ of green attitudes may maneuver biotechnology research and industries into a ‘bad guy’ role, which inevitably leads lowinvolved consumers to reject flavor and aroma biotechnology. The empirical exploration of those emerging communication conflicts allows application of concepts from science communication, such as judgments heuristics of lay audiences (Ho et al. 2009) and models of mediated conflicts (Kepplinger et al. 1991). News media and control authorities are identified as key agents who need to find abalanced communication on advantages and risks while preserving lay audiences’ trust in them at the same time. In this sense, the presentation is intended to stimulate discussion among session attendants on research and practice implications of findings.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Predicting the lines of communication conflict
Dimensions of concern about flavor and aroma biotechnology among citizens and experts

Stefanie Wahl   Department of Journalism and Communication Research Hanover, Germany

Christoph Klimmt   Department of Journalism and Communication Research Hanover, Germany

Beate Schneider   Department of Journalism and Communication Research Hanover, Germany

Thomas Scheper   Institute of Technical Chemistry Hanover, Germany

Ralf Berger   Institute of Food Chemistry Hanover, Germany

Sascha Beutel – Institute of Technical Chemistry Hanover, Germany

Flavor and aroma compounds are essential for a wide range of everyday products (e.g. food, scent and care), but most of these substances are produced on a petrochemical basis. New biotechnological procedures are intended to replace those conventional methods, especially in terms of sustainability. However, public discourse and consumer assumptions about using micro-organisms and synthetic biology for e.g. flavor production seem to be quite skeptical. The present research explored the beliefsand judgments of both consumers and experts regarding the future use of flavor and aromabiotechnology. The analysis of dimensions which stakeholders and (future) consumers considerproblematic serves as a base for applying conceptual knowledge on public acceptance of new technology and prediction of communication challenges. We thus conducted qualitative interviews with 10 experts (e.g. academics, NGOs) on biotechnology and with 10 laypersons. Findings indicate that consumers tend to worry about industrial agents with mere capitalist interests abusing the ‘secret’, uncontrollable biotechnology for delivering dangerous or disgusting food products. A clear preference for authentic, natural foods emerged that implies a structural conflict with the ‘manufactured’, artificial processes of biotechnology. Consumers either rejected biotechnology for this reason entirely or insisted on strong governmental control of production and/or clear product
labeling. Experts identified a broad set of dimensions of possible communication conflicts: Referring to the public debate about genetic engineering researchers and industry representatives complained about news media reporting that is heavily influenced by NGOs. The ‘absolutism’ of green attitudes may maneuver biotechnology research and industries into a ‘bad guy’ role, which inevitably leads lowinvolved consumers to reject flavor and aroma biotechnology. The empirical exploration of those emerging communication conflicts allows application of concepts from science communication, such as judgments heuristics of lay audiences (Ho et al. 2009) and models of mediated conflicts (Kepplinger et al. 1991). News media and control authorities are identified as key agents who need to find abalanced communication on advantages and risks while preserving lay audiences’ trust in them at the same time. In this sense, the presentation is intended to stimulate discussion among session attendants on research and practice implications of findings.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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