[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 29 January 2005 12:42
Subject: 57: Do we have a legitimate convenor at the country level?
This is from Ricardo Ramirez. I am involved in research and teaching in extension, capacity building and communication.
The root of the debate about public involvement has to do with whether we have a legitimate convenor at the country level where a debate could take place. Governments in many countries have yielded to the influence of the biotechnology industry and have lost their independent, public interest role. Many universities have fallen into the same predicament. We need national and regional fora to do what FAO has started through this e-forum on a global scale. We need a convenor that can ask the question: "Who needs GMOs?" and in doing so not be seen as having a vested interest. The science is never going to be conclusive, the challenge is a process that is deemed to be fair where the different parties can negotiate policies and regulations to move forward in the public interest. I would be keen to hear about experiences with legitimate convenors that stimulate a sincere exploration at a country or regional level.
Ricardo Ramírez, PhD
School of Environmental Design and Rural Development
Landscape Architecture Building #104
University of Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2C9
Tel. +1 (519) 824-4120 x 53986
Email: rramirez (at) uoguelph.ca
Sent: 29 January 2005 12:49
Subject: 58: Questions 6.m - 6.o in the Background Document
I am Janaki Krishna from India again.
I agree with the views expressed by Anthony Dunn (Message 53) and Yoel T. Mughenna (Message 55). It is true that the participatory processes have some limitations in practice. However, if followed religiously this alternative model of technology development has an edge in adopting new technologies at farmers level.
Here are some of my views for the last set of questions in the background document.
6.m). "Concerning requests for approval of individual GM products, what kind of information should it be possible to withhold from public disclosure?"
The entire dossier with regard to GMO may not be made available for the general public to elicit their viewpoints, as it is difficult to understand the genetic language. (Also, I observed that some information would not be disclosed even in the full dossiers, which the company/developer thinks as confidential and would be submitted only if necessary. I really do not understand why this information cannot be provided as part of dossier and how the concerned authorities take a final decision without going through such important data along with other data which may be essential for taking a transparent decision). In a simple understandable manner an abstract of the dossier may be made available for the public for their comments (giving some deadline) either through circulating over sample population (representing all stakeholders) or making it available online etc. etc. before taking final decision.
6.n). "Can certain public participation activities be organised on a regional basis in developing countries instead of at the national level?"
Yes, and it is always advisable to do these kind of exercises at regional level and to have consensus at the national level.
6.o). "Is the public participation regarding GMOs in developing countries more important for some food and agriculture sectors (crop, forestry, livestock, aquaculture and agro-industry) than others?"
Yes, especially when they are endemic to their regions and are the staple food and commercial crops in their regions and have the chance of affecting the biodiversity and marketability.
P S Janaki Krishna,
Biotechnology Unit, Institute of Public Enterprise,
Hyderabad - 500 007,
Email: jankrisp (at) yahoo.com
Phone: 040 - 27097018/27098148
Sent: 29 January 2005 12:58
Subject: 59: Why public participation?
My name is Joanna Goven, and I am a lecturer and researcher at the University of Canterbury (New Zealand) and the New Zealand Institute of Gene Ecology. I have been following the discussion with great interest.
I am struck by the fact that the guiding questions for the discussion focus on how and when public participation should happen. Not surprisingly, therefore, the discussion itself has largely focused on these as well as whether the public should be involved at all. However, implicit in the answers to these questions is the answer to another unasked question: Why involve the (rural) public in decision-making regarding GMOs? (I suppose I am disagreeing with Janaki Krishna (Message 18), as I don't think it has yet been properly addressed). This in turn is linked to another question: What kind of issue is the GMO issue?
I would guess that those who advocate leaving the decision-making to the "experts" see the GMO issue strictly as the science that underlies the production of GMOs. This is also implied in much of the discussion of how to enable the public to "understand" GMOs, as well as by those who appear to see the major question as: how do we persuade the (rural) population to accept GMOs? This implies the "we" already know the "right" answer about GMOs.
But if you assume that you already know the right answer with regard to GMOs, there is no point in public participation; what you are looking for is public persuasion. You are not going to learn from rural people or grant them decision-making power. In this situation, participation tends to be a sham, a mere legitimation exercise.
However, from other postings it has become clear that the GMO issue is not simply about the science of producing GMOs (and, in any case, as Michael Ferry and others point out, the scientific research itself is contested and controversial--no clear "right" answer has emerged among the independent science community). It is a much larger and more complex issue involving, for example, questions of sustainable skilling processes (as discussed by Glenn Stone, Message 33), liability, resource allocation (if this is about improving the welfare of people in developing countries, couldn't these resources be spent in better ways?), changes in the distribution of power (between biotech companies and farmers, small and big farmers, etc.), privatisation of genetic resources, and impact on seed saving and exchange, among others.
The conflicts within the GMO working group of the Aarhus Convention, reported by Maria Julia Oliva (Message 20), also point to non-science aspects of the GMO issue. The resistance on the part of some developed countries to subjecting release of GMOs to the same requirements for public participation and public access to information as other environmental decisions is itself relevant to the acceptance or non-acceptance of GMOs. If GMOs come with heightened secrecy, decreased transparency, and reduced access to decision-making for the public, then that itself is part of "the GMO issue" and should inform public debate and participation.
The research reported by Daniela Soleri (Message 30) indicates that, in fact, it is impossible for the "experts" to have the "right" answers with regard to GMOs because their impacts depend crucially on local conditions, knowledge, values, and practices. This indicates that one important purpose of public participation is to enable those responsible for the final decision to learn about these things from the public.
I look forward to the continuing discussion.
School of Political Science and Communications,
University of Canterbury,
Private Bag 4800,
joanna.goven (at) canterbury.ac.nz