Background: Comercially introduced in the 1990s, genetically modified (GM) crops now have a high impact world‐wide: 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 22 countries in 2006. Recently Brazil joined the world's top three countries producing transgenic crops, with 11.5 million hectares of GM crops in 2006 after US and Argentina. However, in contrast to these two countries, there has been considerable controversy over GM crops in Brazil. Since 1998, attempts to produce GM crops on a commercial scale have been made but growing and selling GM crops were banned. By 2003, the controversies were especially significant when it was found that a major proportion of Brazilian soya crops was transgenic due to illegal planting in Southern states. In 2005, the biosafety legislation was approved allowing some GM crops, but the controversies around the issue didn't disappear.

Objective: The objective of this paper is to investigate the perceptions of Brazilian small farmers toward GM crops. Our decision to focus on small farmers was based on the fact that they represent 81 percent of the rural hand labor and the views of this group have not been sufficiently heard and considered in the decision‐making process. This paper is framed in the context of stakeholder participation in a technological controversy.
Methods: The criteria for selection of participants include geographic location, considering different contexts: (1) small farmers living in Rio Grande do Sul, in the South, responsible for 90% of the illegal GM soya crops in 2004; (2) small farmers in a region in which there are strict local regulations and vigilance against transgenic crops (Paraná, a neighbor state of Rio Grande do Sul); (3) small farmers not involved in the conflict (Paraíba, in the North East region, and Acre, in the North). The field research included recorded, open‐ended interviews with 66 individual farmers and 21 focus groups. The issues discussed in these interviews and focus groups included: General assessment for transgenic technology; Policy, regulation and public participation; Risk perception: assessment of different scenarios.

Results: Most of the small farmers in our study ‐ even those who have strong positions against GM crops ‐ accept the application of the same technology in medical applications and for research. The farmers living in a context in which GM soybean is cultivated usually understand reasonable well what GM crops are: although most of them cannot provide a "school" definition, they know that genes modified in the lab are involved. The small farmers talked about the issue with familiarity and related the introduction and dissemination of GM crops with the impact it had on their everyday life, their positive and negative aspects and the potential risks involved. Farmers who live in a context in which GM crops are not cultivated had greater difficulty articulating what GMOs are. They usually related it with other type of modifications made in plants. Most of the farmers in our study expressed their doubts about the potential risks of GM crops to human health and environment. The small farmers expressed interest in more information from disinterested and reliable sources, about GM. They appeared to trust scientists and specialists who did not have any type of relation with the industry. Although most of the farmers believe that they should be heard in decision making processes, some of them don’t have been participating in actions; others simply believe that it is not their social role to participate of decisions.

Conclusions: Our study showed that the Brazilian small farmers, some of them illiterate, even when not familiar with GM crops are very interested in discussing the issue as well as other science issues, and expressed interest in having more access to science communication products. Clearly our results help to illuminate science‐society relations, as well as to bring light to understand the participation of small farmers in decision making processes.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The GM crops
What Brazilian small farmers think about the issue?

Luisa Massarani   Museum of Life/House of Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz

Carla Almeida   Museum of Life/House of Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz

Ildeu Moreira   Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

Fabio Gouveia   Museum of Life/House of Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz

Edna Einsiedel   University of Calgary

Marina Ramalho – Museum of Life/House of Oswaldo Cruz/Fiocruz

Background: Comercially introduced in the 1990s, genetically modified (GM) crops now have a high impact world‐wide: 10.3 million farmers grew GM crops in 22 countries in 2006. Recently Brazil joined the world's top three countries producing transgenic crops, with 11.5 million hectares of GM crops in 2006 after US and Argentina. However, in contrast to these two countries, there has been considerable controversy over GM crops in Brazil. Since 1998, attempts to produce GM crops on a commercial scale have been made but growing and selling GM crops were banned. By 2003, the controversies were especially significant when it was found that a major proportion of Brazilian soya crops was transgenic due to illegal planting in Southern states. In 2005, the biosafety legislation was approved allowing some GM crops, but the controversies around the issue didn't disappear.

Objective: The objective of this paper is to investigate the perceptions of Brazilian small farmers toward GM crops. Our decision to focus on small farmers was based on the fact that they represent 81 percent of the rural hand labor and the views of this group have not been sufficiently heard and considered in the decision‐making process. This paper is framed in the context of stakeholder participation in a technological controversy.
Methods: The criteria for selection of participants include geographic location, considering different contexts: (1) small farmers living in Rio Grande do Sul, in the South, responsible for 90% of the illegal GM soya crops in 2004; (2) small farmers in a region in which there are strict local regulations and vigilance against transgenic crops (Paraná, a neighbor state of Rio Grande do Sul); (3) small farmers not involved in the conflict (Paraíba, in the North East region, and Acre, in the North). The field research included recorded, open‐ended interviews with 66 individual farmers and 21 focus groups. The issues discussed in these interviews and focus groups included: General assessment for transgenic technology; Policy, regulation and public participation; Risk perception: assessment of different scenarios.

Results: Most of the small farmers in our study ‐ even those who have strong positions against GM crops ‐ accept the application of the same technology in medical applications and for research. The farmers living in a context in which GM soybean is cultivated usually understand reasonable well what GM crops are: although most of them cannot provide a "school" definition, they know that genes modified in the lab are involved. The small farmers talked about the issue with familiarity and related the introduction and dissemination of GM crops with the impact it had on their everyday life, their positive and negative aspects and the potential risks involved. Farmers who live in a context in which GM crops are not cultivated had greater difficulty articulating what GMOs are. They usually related it with other type of modifications made in plants. Most of the farmers in our study expressed their doubts about the potential risks of GM crops to human health and environment. The small farmers expressed interest in more information from disinterested and reliable sources, about GM. They appeared to trust scientists and specialists who did not have any type of relation with the industry. Although most of the farmers believe that they should be heard in decision making processes, some of them don’t have been participating in actions; others simply believe that it is not their social role to participate of decisions.

Conclusions: Our study showed that the Brazilian small farmers, some of them illiterate, even when not familiar with GM crops are very interested in discussing the issue as well as other science issues, and expressed interest in having more access to science communication products. Clearly our results help to illuminate science‐society relations, as well as to bring light to understand the participation of small farmers in decision making processes.

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

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