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Deconstructing ‘genetically modified organisms’: academic discourse on ‘GMOs’ and its effect on popular understandings of food and agriculture

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In the popular discourse on food and agriculture, one struggles to find two terms as commonly used, yet as poorly understood, as ‘genetically modified’ and ‘biotechnology’. The misunderstanding surrounding these terms is at least partially perpetuated by the fact that most social science literature on transgenic agriculture contains much of the same imprecise and inaccurate terminology found in the popular discourse on ‘GM crops’. The effect this adoption of terms has on discourse is two-fold: social science literature on ‘GMOs’ reaches a broader audience while at the same time such literature re-enforces common misconceptions on the nature of transgenic biotechnology. This article argues that phrases such as ‘genetically modified’ (and related terms) are imprecise, misleading, and thus should be eschewed by social scientists and other academics conducting research on this topic. In place of this phraseology, terms such as ‘transgenic’ and ‘rDNA-derived biotechnology’ should be adopted where appropriate. Not only would this shift in terminology have the advantage of being more accurate and precise, it would also encourage the emergence of a more informed popular discourse on this controversial aspect of agricultural research and food production.

Keywords: GMOs; agriculture; biotechnology; crop science; discourse; transgenics

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Manchester.

Publication date: 2005-02-01

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