Biotechnology and the public. An international study of policy, media coverage and public attitudes from 1973 to 1996

During the 1990s, the relationship between modern biotechnology and the public was a matter of increasing concern. From Asilomar in the 1970s to the debates on the patenting of life, the development of transgenic animals and the export to Europe of genetically modified soya, biotechnology had consistently provoked public interest, public debate and public controversy.


A concerted action research programme launched by the European Commission to diagnose the state of health of biotechnology across Europe and North America enabled the first ever assessment to take place of the prospects for continued growth and development of a new technology whose performance depended crucially upon public consent. Parallel research programmes were conducted in 15 countries (Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America). ITA, in close co-operation with the Department of Social and Economic Psychology, University of Linz carried out the Austrian country report, as well as contributing to the overall analysis. The international study was jointly co-ordinated by the National Museum of Science and Industry, London and the London School of Economics.

The research had three closely related components:

  • national studies of policy development, media coverage and public perception from 1973-1996
  • a Eurobarometer survey on biotechnology, conducted in every European member state and fielded independently in other participating countries
  • a cross national comparative analysis of key patterns and trends in policy-making, media coverage and public perception.

The research provided a uniquely wide-ranging social scientific analysis of the development of a strategic technology, together with recommendations for biotechnology policies for the future, which took into account public perceptions and concerns.

Continuation of this project: EUDEB

01/1996 - 12/1998