Who Does the Public Trust?

Abstract: Trust is important for the perception of many types of risk, including those relating to genetically modified (GM) food. Who the public trusts in any given circumstance, however, is not well understood. In this study of public trust regarding GM food, an exploratory factor analysis with Promax rotation reveals public classification of three common institutional types—evaluators, watchdogs, and merchants. The structure of relationships among these stakeholders can act to enable or constrain public support for this new technology. Evaluators—scientists, universities, and medical professionals—are the most trusted. Watchdogs—consumer advocacy organizations, environmental organizations, and media sources—are moderately trusted. Merchants—grocers and grocery stores, industry, and farmers—are least trusted. While the federal government is seen as closest to being an evaluator, it is not highly correlated with any of the factors. The lack of trust in the organizations with the greatest resources and responsibilities for ensuring the safety of GM food should be seen as an important obstacle to the adoption of the technology.

Citation: Lang, John T. and William K. Hallman. 2005. “Who Does the Public Trust? The Case of Genetically Modified Food in the United States.” Risk Analysis 25(5): 1241-1252.

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