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Frankenfish, Monsatan, and Killer Canola Making Good Decisions in the Midst of Environmental Controversy

H. A. Longstaff*

The W. Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics, the University of British Columbia, 227-6356 Agricultural Road, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada

*Corresponding author. Email:


On January 9th 2004, the journal 'Science' confirmed that farmed salmon is higher in industrial pollutants called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxins than wild salmon. The fishmeal component of the farmed salmon feed was cited as the likely source of these contaminants. One way to avoid this toxin loading is to use a salmon feed that contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. This new feed would substitute wild South American fish meal for transgenic canola as its main protein component. Although this option has many environmental, social, and economic benefits for Canadian consumers, it will also likely be met with opposition from certain special interest groups, and become a popular target of the media. The Canadian salmon aquaculture industry has in some cases been vilified by the popular media and certain environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs). Whether this portrayal is justified or not is debatable. What we do know is that an excessive amount of conflicting information makes effective decision making extremely difficult for Canadian consumers. Information concerning transgenic feeds can be highly complex and unfamiliar to many laypeople. Our research demonstrates that the public already holds misconceptions regarding the salmon aquaculture industry. These misconceptions hinder an individual's ability to make good decisions about salmon aquaculture food products, and must be addressed before this industry attempts to disseminate additional information concerning new controversial technologies (i.e., transgenic feeds). We have found that it is possible to effectively communicate the risks and benefits of controversial issues while addressing misconceptions through a process known as the mental models approach to risk communication, as described by Morgan et al., 2002. This paper discusses the results of our risk communication experiment and shows how this process affected our respondents' understanding of factual information, their confidence as consumers, their acceptance of this issue, and their purchasing decisions.

Keywords: Genetically engineered feeds, mental models, risk communication, salmon aquaculture

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