SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

SPRU informs governmental report on EU regulation on GMOs

The UK Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology has a released a report today, 26 February, on Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution. The report draws on evidence submitted by members of SPRU, notably Prof. Andy Stirling with other members of the STEPS Centre, and Prof. Paul Nightingale.  

SPRU’s evidence to the Committee focused on the importance of more democratic institutions, practices and debates around innovation.

Andy Stirling proposed that there is “a degree of lock-in with GM technology”. He gave evidence to show that rather than reducing everything simply to ‘risk’, much more attention needs to be given to unquantifiable uncertainties – highlighting the value of more responsible, participatory and precautionary methods for assessing alternative choices.

In giving evidence, Paul Nightingale also highlighted the imperative to understand risk assessments as value-based and often contested as “while scientific experiments such as those considered during risk assessment could “provide convincing evidence that something causes harm”, they could never “fully establish [that] something is safe”, so “what counts as safe is the result of a negotiated and often contested process”.

Andy Stirling also presented evidence to support the need for much greater attention to diversity – both in the portfolios of options that can be supported and in the plurality of perspectives to take into account, and the need for public engagement in alternative to risk assessments.

The report includes some recommendations which evidently take forward some of the broader issues that SPRU raised – around democratic accountability for innovation pathways, for example; alternative food innovation strategies, more transparent information, greater public oversight with the establishment of a Citizen’s Council, which may, if properly established and supported, could facilitate greater democratic accountability for innovation pathways.

Nevertheless, there appears to be a disconnect between the content of the report and the summary and press release. The impression is given that the findings were on exactly the lines determined in the original criticised remit – fixating exclusively on arguments for and against GM alone.

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