Governance of Agricultural Biotechnologies
Location M213
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 16:00
Sessions 1


  • Georgina Catacora-Vargas (University Mayor de San Simón) email
  • Sarah Hartley (University of Nottingham) email
  • Brian Wynne (Lancaster University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Andrew Stirling (University of Sussex)
Discussant Philip MacNaghten (Wageningen University)

Short Abstract

Governance of agricultural biotechnologies faces limitations, challenges and opportunities. From epistemological questions and empirical case-studies, this session explores what a scientifically and socially more robust governance approaches would comprise.

Long Abstract

Governance of agricultural biotechnologies is typically limited to regulatory frameworks that assess health and environmental risks. A broader range of concerns about these technologies is not addressed. Instead attention focuses only on the adequacy or otherwise of the risk scientific knowledge, against a barrage of assertions that no more risk research is necessary, since these technologies have been proven safe. Yet for multiple complex reasons, agricultural biotechnologies remain significantly controversial.

There is an urgent need for understanding what could help to design and enact improved forms of governance to address prevailing limitations, and respond to environmental, economic and social/ethical sustainability challenges. These discussions are particularly timely as policy-makers and regulators globally are evaluating the adequacy of existing regulatory frameworks in light of new and evolving agricultural genomic tools and products.

The concept of responsible research and innovation may be a useful tool to help policy-makers 'open up' traditionally expert domains of research, innovation and risk assessment. In particular, it offers a framework for including a broader range of voices (e.g. other alternative experts disciplines, the public and stakeholders) in shaping agricultural biotechnology innovation trajectories and defining the unresolved societal challenges.

This closed session will draw on epistemological reflections and, based on case studies from different countries, provide critical discussion about what responsible governance of agricultural biotechnology might entail. Special attention will be given to the analysis of underlying values and assumptions, and a broader range of problem-definitions, knowledge and perspectives.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Gene-edited crops and the integration of diverse knowledges for strategic research policy

Authors: Sarah Hartley (University of Nottingham)  email
Robert Smith (King's College London)  email

Short Abstract

Gene-edited crops tap into longstanding divisions within GMO controversies. We introduce an approach to embed reflection and societal engagement in strategic research policy as a key element of responsible governance of agricultural biotechnology.

Long Abstract

Gene-editing constitutes the next wave of genomic techniques promising to revolutionise the field of agricultural biotechnology. Scientists claim gene-edited crops will improve resource use efficiency, disease resistance, and nutritional content. These crops represent a site of public contestation, tapping into existing divisions within GMO controversies. Currently, European Commission regulators are deciding whether gene-edited crops should be regulated as GMOs. Campaigning groups of scientists and agricultural businesses argue gene-edited crops should not fall under existing GMO legislation. Civil society and organic farming organisations disagree. Both sides are threatening action in the European Court of Justice, pending the Commission decision. Sensitive to this debate, the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council seeks to engage broadly as it develops strategic research policy. To improve its engagement activities at an operational level, the Council commissioned us to develop an engagement tool drawing on the concept of responsible innovation. In this paper, we lay out the Knowledge Integration Template, which aims to broaden the range of expertise that feeds into strategic and funding decisions, and apply it to the case of gene-edited crops. We argue that embedding reflection and societal engagement in strategic research policy is a key aspect of responsible governance of agricultural biotechnology. Such engagement should explicitly address questions of intent and be based on the integration of knowledge, broadly defined.

Context-adapted labeling of GM food - Regulatory insights from the Bolivian experience

Authors: Georgina Catacora-Vargas (University Mayor de San Simón)  email
Sergio Arispe Barrientos (Ministry of Environment and Water of Bolivia)  email

Short Abstract

Labeling of GM food is a challenging and hotly debated issue in agricultural biotechnology governance. The Bolivian experience provides important insights on this issue when faced with multiple constraints in the context of responsible agricultural biotechnology governance.

Long Abstract

Labeling of GM food is a hotly debated and controversial issue in agricultural biotechnology governance. Despite normative and technical challenges, the number of countries labeling GM foods is growing, particularly in the Global South. The Bolivian experience provides interesting insights into these challenges. Bolivian law mandates that all products intended for direct or indirect human consumption that contain or are derived from GMOs must be labeled as such. Labeling GM foods in Bolivia represents a major challenge for a number of reasons: 1] limited technical and human resources capacity, 2] the majority of the population's reduced purchasing power, 3] restricted relevance in the international trade as Bolivia represents a minor market, 4] clear divisions between public and private actors on questions about the safety of GMOs. Bolivian regulators held deliberations to explore how they might interpret their legal obligations as they developed a regulatory approach, while sensitive to the technical capacities and socio-economic context. This paper analyses the institutional and technical issues emerging from these deliberations including multi-sectorial coordination, a scope focused on citizen's rights to information over unfinished discussions on safety, a process-based approach for GMOs identification and traceability, and on-border labeling of imported products. Although this regulatory approach has yet to be implemented, the Bolivian experience provides important insights for other Global South countries considering GM food labeling regulation when faced with multiple constraints in the context of responsible agricultural biotechnology governance.

Incorporation of sustainability, ethical and social considerations in risk assessment of agricultural biotechnologies.

Authors: Frøydis Gillund (GenØk - Centre for Biosafety)  email
Anne Ingeborg Myhr (The Arctic University of Norway)  email

Short Abstract

The lack of clarity about how to assess socio-economic impacts of agricultural biotechnologies prevents effective incorporation of such considerations in risk assessment frameworks. We discuss how stakeholder deliberations may provide useful insights on what these assessments should entail.

Long Abstract

Policy-makers, both within the EU and internationally, are increasingly recognizing the need to broaden the scope of regulatory frameworks for agricultural biotechnologies beyond an assessment of risk to human health and the environment. Incorporation of broader considerations, such as socio-economic impacts, in risk assessment of agricultural biotechnologies is however limited by a lack of practical steps and indicators for how to do this. Using the case of late blight resistant GM potato, we describe examples of stakeholder deliberations intended to promote reflection on, and articulate ways to, assess sustainability, ethical and social considerations of this particular GM crop in a Norwegian agricultural context. This type of GM potato has been tested in field trials on several locations in Europe and is claimed to be the first example of a GM crop that intends to solve a serious problem for Norwegian and European farmers. Governance-relevant aspects identified by the stakeholders included issues such corporate control over genes and seed markets, opportunities for independent research, consumer trust and choice, and the durability of this control strategy. The stakeholders expressed diverging views about the relevance of the assessment criteria identified by through these deliberations. Considering stakeholder knowledge and perspectives when developing broader risk assessment frameworks may contribute to more socially responsible governance approaches of agricultural biotechnologies.

A systems approach to assessing GMOs: insights from a context of coexistence

Authors: Amaranta Herrero (GENØK)  email
Fern Wickson (GenØk Centre for Biosafety)  email
Rosa Binimelis (Genok)  email

Short Abstract

Governance of agricultural biotechnologies needs to consider the broader socio-ecological system that they embody and engender. Using empirical data from Spain, we explore some of the methods available for advancing this systems-based approach and foster reflections on the governance of coexistence.

Long Abstract

Over the past twenty years, agricultural biotechnologies have generated chronically unresolved political controversies. The standard tool of risk assessment has proven to be highly limited in its ability to address the panoply of concerns that exist about these hybrid techno/organisms. It has also failed to account for both the conceptual and material networks of relations agricultural biotechnologies require, create and/or perform. In this presentation we argue responsible governance of agricultural biotechnologies needs to be evaluated them within the context of the broader socio-ecological system that they embody and engender. We explore, compare and contrast some of the methodological tools available for advancing this systems-based perspective. We conclude by outlining a new synthesis approach of comparative cartographies of agri/cultures generated through multi-sited ethnographic case-studies, which is proposed as a way to generate system maps and enable the comparison of genetically modified food systems with both conventional and alternative agri-food networks. We articulate this approach with empirical data from Spain that is especially relevant for fostering reflections on the governance of the coexistence between organic, conventional and GM crops and particularly the unresolved frictions created by these different agri-food models trying to exist and gain or keep a market share.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.