Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communication Department


Date of this Version

February 2004


Published in The Journal of Agricultural Education, volume 45 (2004), pages 1-6. Used by permission.
The Journal of Agricultural Education (JAE) is a publication of the American Association for Agricultural Education (AAAE). Its back issues are available online at


Recent advances in plant biotechnology have led to significant changes in crop varieties and cropping systems in the United States, in particular the rapidly expanding cultivation of transgenic or genetically modified (GM) crops (Liu, 1999). Such crops, which contain artificially inserted genes, have been hailed as a major advance in agricultural technology and simultaneously condemned as a grave threat to the environment and to human health.

In Europe, which represents a significant market for U.S. agricultural producers, widespread and vehement public opposition has effectively shut down importation and domestic production of GM crops, while in the U.S. public uncertainty is growing, together with calls for stricter regulation (Gaskell, Bauer, Durant, & Allum, 1999; National Academy of Sciences, 2000). With billions of dollars already invested in the development of GM crops and with over half of the soybean and cotton and a quarter of the corn grown in the U.S. in 1999 consisting of transgenic varieties, potential public opposition to GM crops is a major concern for U.S. agricultural producers and businesses (Ferber, 1999).

It has been argued that public acceptance or rejection will be an extremely important factor in determining the future of GM technology (Saba, Moles, & Frewer, 1998). Yet many Americans feel themselves to be poorly educated about transgenic crops and GM foods and rely on the media for information (Frewer, Howard, & Aaron, 1998).

Much of the information currently available through the Internet or media sources is either from the biotechnology industry itself and is unabashedly promotion, or it is from groups organized to campaign against GM technology and is clearly biased. Therefore, a group of plant breeders, nutritionists, and agricultural education specialists familiar with GM technology have initiated a project (through the support of a USDA IFAFS grant) to provide reliable, accessible, complete, and unbiased information on GM crops and foods to as wide an audience as possible. One of the first audiences receiving the information was composed predominately of Extension educators.

In February, 2001, pre- and post-tests (Vestal & Briers, 1999) were administered to participants in a biotechnology workshop offered by faculty of the Soil and Crop Sciences Department at Colorado State University. Fifty-five of the 100 participants completed the instruments that measured awareness, attitude, delivery, and demographics. The vast majority (84% or 46) respondents described their primary occupational responsibility as Extension educator, of whom 33 (60%) had 11 or more years in that role.