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What do Americans really want to know about gene editing in animals?

By Christine Kuo.

Have you ever learned about something new, and then curious to learn more or perhaps concerned about what you just learned, tried to search for information about it? Were you able to find the answers you were looking for?

New technologies like gene editing are emerging and becoming commercially approved in some countries like the United States. Research has shown that people have varying levels of knowledge about gene editing, and that some are concerned about the technology. 

Some organizations seek to provide answers to these questions by hosting “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQ) webpages, but to date no research has compared the questions featured on these webpages to actual questions from the public. Our group at the University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program set out to see what questions people had about gene editing.
Using an online platform, we asked 338 survey participants in the United States what questions they had about gene editing in animals, and then compared these to the questions featured on FAQ webpages provided by gene editing stakeholders like industry, government and advocacy groups. 
Survey participants mostly asked general questions about the technology (29% of questions) or about the welfare of the animals concerned (26% of questions). In contrast, 32% of the questions on the FAQ webpages were about regulation of gene editing. In reality, only 2% of the questions asked by our participants were about regulations.
We don’t know why the gene editing stakeholders in our study were motivated to create FAQ webpages, or how they generated their list of questions, but it is likely that at least some of them were genuinely motivated to share information about gene editing and respond to public concerns. These organizations could use the results of the current study to address this mismatch, and thus more directly address real questions of citizens interested in this technology. 

Failure to consider the actual questions that people ask increases the risk that organizations simply provide information that they think is important. Further, FAQ webpages are framed differently, highlighting benefits or risks of the technology. Organizations like those featured in our study may still wish to carry out marketing efforts, but doing so under the banner of a FAQ webpage may seem disingenuous and risk eroding public trust.


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Christine Kuo is an MSc student with the Animal Welfare Program at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include farm animal welfare and the intersections between animal welfare and human society. 

Katherine E. Koralesky is a postdoctoral fellow in the Animal Welfare Program at the University of British Columbia. Her research focuses on the human dimensions of animal welfare, including understanding the people who work with animals on farms, companion animal shelters, and with novel technologies such as gene editing. 

Marina A.G. von Keyserlingk is a professor in UBC’s Animal Welfare Program with a long-standing interest in the welfare of farm animals, including the effects of technologies on these animals. 

Daniel M. Weary is a professor in UBC’s Animal Welfare Program. His research focuses on the welfare of animals kept on farms and in research laboratories.