Introduction

As we stated at the beginning, biotechnology is a complex topic; it is a proposition with high stakes and has passionate proponents and opponents. Risk-assessment and risk-management procedures intended to identify and minimize potential negative effects on human health and the environment are key elements in making technical decisions to use, or not use, a product of biotechnology. However, just as a three-legged stool will not stand with only two legs, the public will not accept biotechnology as a tool for crop improvement until the third element - risk communication - becomes an integral part of biosafety procedures.

One of the most damaging lessons to emerge from the development of GM crops comes from early efforts to gain public acceptance of GMOs. When biotechnology products were first being field tested in the United States and Europe, public communications were seriously mishandled. Simplistic messages that oversold the technology (e.g., "biotechnology will put an end to world hunger"), dismissed people's concerns (e.g., "biotechnology is just an extension of what humans have been doing to improve crops for thousands of years"), or glossed over uncertainty (e.g., "I just don't think outcrossing will cause any problems") succeeded only in alienating an uneasy public. The private sector in particular transmitted an attitude of arrogance and deception that continues to undermine its credibility today, more than twenty years later.

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