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Community Attitudes toward Gene Editing in the Red Meat Sector

Did you know, livestock producers and the wider community have a wide range of views about using gene editing in red meat production?

Project start date: 07 April 2020
Project end date: 30 September 2021
Publication date: 16 February 2022
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grass-fed Cattle, Sheep
Relevant regions: National
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Summary

The purpose of the research was to better understand how and why Australian’s hold particular views on the use of gene editing in meat production and, through such understanding, to develop a set of best practice guidelines for community engagement on this topic.

Objectives

To explore the knowledge and values that Australians hold about practices and policies relating to gene editing in livestock.
• To analyse the influences and drivers of public attitudes and values about gene editing, including on what perceptions, experiences, and evidence (scientific or otherwise) these attitudes and values are based.
• To establish best practice methods for articulating and addressing conflicts in the context of a community engagement program designed to improve transparency and levels of public trust, with regard both to gene editing and more generally to technology use in livestock production.

Key findings

(1) The study identified five existing discourses on gene editing within the Australian community. While one of these discourses is generally optimistic about the potential that gene editing might solve perceived issues within the food system, the other four are either conditionally supportive, or opposed to the use of gene editing in livestock production.
(2) Attitudes toward the use of gene editing in beef and sheepmeat production are likely to be influenced by existing attitudes toward livestock production, as well as to science and novel technologies more generally.
(3) Applications of gene editing that benefit animal welfare or have other clear benefits to society are more likely to be accepted by members of the Australian community than are applications that primarily aim to improve production efficiencies and outputs.
(4) Community attitudes are relatively insensitive to differences in the types of gene editing, such as between heritable and non-heritable changes, or ‘switching off or on’ genes versus introducing genetic material from other animals. A notable exception is the introduction of genetic material from an animal of a different species.
(5) Producer attitudes toward gene editing are generally more positive than they are negative.
(6) Overall, the most trusted stakeholders in gene editing in livestock are scientists, but with caveats.
(7) The discourses identified in this research will facilitate the development of tailored messages addressing areas of concern for the community. Including diverse stakeholder voices speaking on a range of issues will be vital for effective community engagement that will maintain SLO.

Benefits to industry

(1) The study provides more understanding of the reactions and reception that might result should gene editing be trialed or used in the Australian livestock industry.

(2) The findings give a window more generally into some of Australians' concerns about red meat production, and particularly trade-offs between animal welfare, production efficiency, and environmental issues. Views at the intersection of these factors are complex, and it is likely that our findings have implications well beyond gene editing into other uses of technologies or novel production practices, including various genetic strategies.

(3) Many community members had low levels of self-reported knowledge and evidenced various gaps in their understanding of production practices which points to the need to better engage the broad public, even if there will be a vocal minority which may raise concerns about various practices as a result of greater transparency.

(4) Given that the organisations that were least trusted included industry organisations, businesses involved in gene editing, and commercial producers, there is the need for the industry to involve a range of experts in any discussions or engagement about gene editing with the community.

(5) The study also suggests that there will be difficulties in balancing community concerns about the pursuit of industry profitability, including types of gene editing that may assist with innovations and improvements in livestock production, with what the community views as the most ethical and trustworthy decisions about using such technologies.

MLA action

A number of guiding principles have been developed to achieve the recommendations presented and inform the research. This will govern future investment MLA has in this area. These include:
• Engagement strategies need to have a clear goal
• An understanding of the audience(s) or communities that will be engaged is vital. This goes beyond demographics to understanding values and concerns
• Understanding audience perceptions of key stakeholders is vital to deciding which actors are trusted to both manage and communicate about issues; and
• Message attributes (i.e. the what and how) are determined by both the engagement goals, and the audience(s).

Future research

There is a lack of discussion about strategic communication applied to scientific issues in the research literature and little evaluation of communications strategies that would inform the development of an effective engagement strategy about gene editing in the livestock industry in Australia.

 

For more information:

Contact Project Manager: Peta Bradley

E: reports@mla.com.au