[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: 31 January 2005 16:04
Subject: 60: How should the public be involved?
Hello again! I am Cleofe s. Torres, an associate professor of development communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
After having gone through several discussions on why and how should the public be involved in decision-making on GMOs, I wish to share my ideas again, as an academician, that is.
The prevailing opinion so far on the issue is for the public to be involved. But the more tricky question on "how" to do it has been touched only by some.
A few went to the extreme of making it appear impossible to reach out to millions or billions and inform them of GMOs - the opportunities, costs, and risks involved. I would say that this is where the role of development communicators should become more prominent. Participation as a form of communication is a science and an art. It has certain principles that can guide us on "what should we share, with whom, with what expected behavior outcome, through what channels, and at what cost."
Information on GMOs, no matter how technical or scientific, can be "processed" or popularized so that they become more understandable/comprehensible to the various sectors in the public. We teach what we call science communication where we share principles on how scientific messages may be made accurate, brief, but clear through various popularization techniques (the science and art of defining through analogies, use of examples, visuals and humanizing to name a few so that technical jargon can be made more understandable). Of course, the basic rule is to know our stakeholders. We cannot lump all those concerned together into a "faceless public" lest we run into addressing a non-existent figure. You may say that these all sound too academic, but this is what education is all about - the provision of handles that have been proven to work effectively most of the time. After all, we get our wisdom from time-tested experiences. Hence, there is a need for those who will involve the public in GMOs decision making to be equipped with these knowledge and skills. Not everybody of course can be a popular science communicator.
Not because we have all the media around us means that we will just use them. We need to know when best to use them. Communication after all also involves a systematic way of doing things.
Also, there are various levels and methods of participation that should enable us to address this issue more systematically. Regardless of the communities or sectors involved, participation by representation still remains as the basic workable management tool for large scale involvement. Again, people can be taught how to maximize this representation. This is the reason why specific sectors of the public (such as the farmers) have to be organized. To interprete participation as letting everyone just say his piece at anytime will just lead to chaos. As mentioned by Ricardo Ramirez (Message 57), there should be a legitimate convenor of this democratic exercise at various levels (national, regional. local).
Again, the bottom line is that participation and access to information affecting one's life is a basic human right. I think that it is a crime to deprive the affected ones of this right just because they may not be able to comprehend the jargon of science. As public servants and science communicators, we owe it to them to educate them on the basics and complexities of GMOs. If at the end of the day, and despite our efforts to share what is due them, they still opted for self destruction, then so be it. Freedom of choice is something we cannot deprive others of. At least, we have allowed them to determine their fate and learn from its consequences. We just hope things are not yet too late, and they can still recover. To embrace error is still a worthy cause.
Cleofe S. Torres
College of Development Communication
UP Los Baños College,
email:docle_2003 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:05
Subject: 61: Re: Kenyan contribution
This is Dr. Prashant Joshi, a research scientist, involved in research, training and extension activities in Maharashtra and presently working in a National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP) project in tribal belt of Maharashtra.
As Carol Keter (Message 34) writes "It may be a good idea that FAO and other development agencies are thinking about ways to involve the farmers in developing countries in decision-making concerning GMOs". I agree with this comment. It is a good idea but things are very tough indeed. Some developing countries accepted and some of them rejected the idea of GMOs. India is a land of diversity, varied socio-economic culture, topography. Rural people have small holdings, no irrigation traditionally involved in farming as a source of life and depends on orthodox farming lot of painstaking efforts from government agencies, universities, NGOs etc. Most of the farmers cannot afford to follow recommendations given by universities because of economic status, then how can they think of GMOs. We have to think and consider the other side of coin before taking any decision.
I personally think that political will is necessary to counteract the problem arises because every year lot of funds allocation provision is kept and practically it is useless. Still the scenario is not changed - poor farmers are still poor and owners of seed companies are richer day by day. It is a good idea to involve the farmers in decision making but their role should be well defined and what are their prospects also should be very clear to them. Audio-visual publications are good source to involved in decision making.
Dr. Prashant Joshi,
Dr.PDKV Agriculture University
Phone:91 724 2258467(O)
91 724 2458959(R)
psjoshi_175 (at) yahoo.co.in
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:06
Subject: 62: Listen to the voices of the rural people
This is Paul N. Okello of Swiss Management Academy International, Rome, Italy. Here is my viewpoint on the on-going discussion:
Our brothers and sisters in the countryside form an equally vital part of the whole equation of any major issue of national importance. Many economies ride on their often unappreciated efforts and courage in the mists of enormous challenges. Therefore, the whole equation will never be complete without the contribution of the rural people. Any attempts to shortchange them will result in a situation of imbalance. That is not an advisable condition to journey on with.
As regards the weighty issue of GMOs, it would be suicidal not to involve the rural people. But the intimidating question is how they may be effectively involved in the decision-making process regarding production, release or import of GMOs.
Simply put, the only way out is to listen to their voices. The voices of the rural people in the developing countries must be heard in the decision-making processes of any given nature of GMOs. It is unfortunate that often people with vested personal interest hide behind expert’s opinion to influence and/or manipulate the rural people to accept views not necessarily their own. As such, the voices of the rural people get strangled and their involvement ceases to be effective. But even before giving them the opportunity to express their views, no assumptions should be made and hence they should, and must, be made to fully comprehend what GMOs are all about. For it is only then that they will make meaningful and valuable contributions to the decision making process.
Paul Nyawanda Okello,
Swiss Management Academy International,
Via Pomarico 9-00178.
e-mail:nyawash (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:06
Subject: 63: Contribution from Iran
I am Atefeh Fooladi Moghaddam. I work for the Ministry of Health in Iran. As a part of my duty, I am involved in risk communication. Recently we are faced with GMOs (Bt rice) and the decision which be made about these new foods.
I thank FAO because of this informative conference. I have been tracking all the messages and I have realized everybody sees a part of this huge matter and so all are true. Those who agree with people's participation are true because this is people's right to know what they plant and sell and eat and how their products will affect their environment and lives, but communication has always been a complex matter. Scientists understand the scientific language of each other, but they are poorly able to talk in the people's language. Some good points were mentioned before (such as extension system) and I don't want to take up your time repeating them. Later I will address the main question of this conference, but there is something I want to say: Those who believe why people should be involved are true too!! I agree with Sylvia Kosalko (Message 16, January 19) concerning this question: "Who benefits the most from the introduction of these organisms"? I would like to ask some questions: Who should inform the people ? (Of course, the organisations and academia which are involved in these matters) and which decision should people make regarding GMOs?
If we suppose they were well informed about the pros and cons of this new technology, their decision would be yes or no. They would accept the new technology or deny it. So what if they deny it? Of course, the information providers don't like this, they spend lots of money and would like to make profit. Let me explain more: I attended a workshop about GMOs last week. We (the Food and Drug Division staffs) were invited to ABRII (Agricultural Biotechnology Research Institute of Iran). All we heard were the benefits of this new technology (although we were aware of disadvantages) so I want to say if the information is to be given by these organisations, it has to be biased. So what choice will remain for the people? When I asked them whether they were going to participate rural people, they was wondering what decision people could make.
I am trying to believe in the reality of public participation at developed world and then maybe we can come to agreement about developing world.
Atefeh Fooladi Moghaddam
Secretariat of Applied Research
Food and Drug Division
Ministry of Health and Medical Education
Enghelab Ave, Fakhre Razi Ave,
Email:foodinfo (at) hbi.ir
fooladi_50 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:07
Subject: 64: GMO adoption as a multi-disciplinary concern
From Tony Dunn,again.
First of all let me add my warm thanks to FAO for sponsoring this debate. It reminds me of my first experience of list discussions probably about 10 years ago on 'sustainability' - moderated by Bob (?) Hart!
Ricardo Ramirez (Message 57), Janaki Krishna (Message 58) and Joanna Gaven (Message 59) all make points that impinge on my plea for a more participatory approach to GMO adoption.
What struck me was Ricardo's question 'who needs GMOs?' It's a good start, but the answers obviously depend on who answers them. Like many technologies and issues, there is no simple or black and white answer like there appeared to be 50 years ago. Then we assumed that all science and technology were good and should be adopted. In extension theory there was the notion of 'adoption lag' which commonly meant that farmers and extension people were blamed for slowing down progress and exacerbating research wastage.
With the realisation that adoption was a complex process - both psychologically (change in the person) and sociologically (change in society). Broadly speaking, improved theories AND practices including Farming Systems Research, Rapid Rural Appraisal led to participatory learning and action. Most of the progress came from social science and social practitioners and emerged from experience and thinking in the developing (south) countries and fed back to the developed (north) countries! The reverse to the hard science progress - Neils Roling called it 'technology propelled agriculture'. Anyone who want a primer on how all this happened should read: Roling, N.,1988, Extension Science: Information systems in agricultural development, Melbourne, Cambridge.
Back to the question of 'who' legitimises adoption? In the old days (post World War 2), adoption failed because farmers rejected what they saw as 'worthless' (to them) innovations. Nevertheless, some innovations turned 'bad' over time and were discontinued by farmers. Every farmer has a view on adoptions they wished they hadn't made, and most would have worries about some which they are now locked into which they wish they could give up (e.g. 'some' chemicals, and some intensive monocultures). Jules Pretty has a useful analysis of farming systems - one socially and environmentally soft ('sustainable') and the other intensive and risky ('modernist')- see Pretty, JN 1995, Regenerating agriculture: Policies, and practice for sustainability, London, Earthscan.
So what's so different about GMOs that we haven't experienced in the last 50 years? I've often been asked this by my biotech positive colleagues, and I admit my answers were stilted! As a farmer who felt he had a small part in pioneering rapeseed (now canola) as a crop, I felt confronted by a technology I couldn't fully understand. Furthermore, I felt that once released GM canola could not be discontinued. Even if I chose not to adopt, I would be affected; the marketing problems were significant. I mistrusted corporate interests - especially multi-nationals! Such problems, I felt must be even greater for farmers in the south.
On the other hand, we'd all survived the green revolution, hadn't we? So what was so different about what Gordon Conway calls 'the doubly green revolution'? (See Conway, G, 1997, The doubly green revolution: Food for all in the 21st century, Ithaca, Comstock). To answer this from an academic stance, I turned to the literature and theory. For a start, I felt that the debate was dominated by the hard sciences - mainly bio-physical, mainly biology and agronomy. But what of the social sciences, extension, ecology and systems science? There was and is ample literature from all these disciplines - well published AND practised! The field of disciplines is widening, e.g. ethics and theology also having an input; for instance, Reiss, MJ & Straughan, R, 1996, Improving nature: The science and ethics of genetic engineering, Cambridge. However, in the debate the non bio-physical sciences were not heard. Worse than this it's reported that detractors of the technologies were being suppressed - even victimised.
My main point is that adoption has always been a multi-disciplinary concern; extension thinking and practice have been advanced by experience from developing countries - often where the unintended negative consequences of western technology have been observed. Thus the debate about adoption of biotech including GMOs has not used this knowledge. One reason is that extension has been an add-on discipline - one that the hard sciences use after their technologies have been developed; it should be (along with farmer participation, ethics and social sciences) included in the research at the beginning. Another reason is that an industrialised industry (agriculture is certainly in this category in developed countries) is always likely to be technology driven - even marketing researchers complain that they are not consulted early enough in R&D! As an extension academic I have been used to pushing may way into hard science research; I usually begin by pointing out that there'd be no agriculture without people! And even in industrialised agriculture farms are largely family owned and operated.
Senior Lecturer in Extension
School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences
Charles Sturt University
e-mail: adunn (at) csu.edu.au
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:07
Subject: 65: The rural people should be involved
This is Gwinyai E. Chibisa again.
Of course, genetic modification is an esoteric process, but it is disheartening to note that some participants are taking this as a basis for excluding rural people in decision-making. It is in the rural areas [in which more than 85% of the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa reside, (Randolph et al., 2001)] where there are real productivity and food security challenges for science and technology. Genetic modification can improve the situation (despite it`s significant gestation period before its impact is realised). Given the fact that genetic modification affects and can address specific needs of rural farmers, the rural people should be involved in the decision-making process regarding GMOs.
These rural people need to be educated about GMOs. Obviously, there is a cost to everything, including not involving them in the decision-making process. Honestly, how can regulatory mechanisms inspire public confidence with reference to benefit-risk assessment of GMOs, if people remain ignorant and are out of the decision-making process? Who and what will these people believe? Won`t ignorance make them be misled by these big companies who just want to make a killing?
Therefore, a concerted effort towards a public literacy compaign regarding GMOs is required. As for the costs (question 6.k in the background document), government can contribute through public funds and the private sector (NGOs, farmer organisations, etc) should also be involved.
Gwinyai Emmanuel Chibisa,
Department of Animal Science
University of Zimbabwe
gcecko (at) yahoo.co.uk
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:08
Subject: 66: Channels and decision-making / Experts and democracy / Messengers and the message
This is from Jorge Mayer (Biochemist and IP Expert), Golden Rice Project Manager, Campus Technologies Freiburg, Germany.A) Channels and decision-making
I will hardly be able to add any new insights to this conference, having seen excellent and above all, very pragmatic points of view by many participants. I believe that any proposition coming from this conference must be practicable. Life on the farm has been in constant flow since man’s involvement with agriculture but it always has been hands-on. If you ask a farmer whether she wants a GMO, she will come back with the question, does it have a higher yield, will I earn more at the end of the day, will I need to invest less in inputs, will the use of toxic pesticides be reduced, how will the new crop affect the soil, and other similarly practical questions.
While talking to farmers in Colombia I was surprised about them asking when they would finally get to use transgenic crops. They had obviously heard about the advantages of transgenic crops and they wanted to have more detail about the practicalities, how would their lives change, if at all. In Colombia, the government has listened to the farmers and has introduced a practicable legislation that makes it possible to register transgenics without unnecessary burdens.2. Farmers make decisions
In a number of cases already, farmers have decided with their feet when it came to the adoption of GMOs—see the soya bean case in Brazil—and having heard of the advantages of GM varieties they have opted for illegality or have exerted pressure upon their governments to introduce them legally.
One maxim at the decision-making level must be to avoid the introduction of unpleasant, unwieldy practices. In my own experience, even if you menace field workers with being fired, many will not put on protective gear when spraying pesticides in the tropics. Analogously, it would not be enforceable to produce a toxic substance in an edible crop and ask small farmers to take care that nobody around steals and eats them.B) Experts and Democracy
In developed countries there are enough technically qualified people to fill administrative/regulatory posts. It is important to strive toward an improvement in the numbers of technically versed people in developing countries. These are the people who will carry a main load of the responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of consumers and producers alike. Purely political administrators many times ignore the feedback from their constituency. What is required are experts that can translate science back and forth, up and downstream. We must listen to the feedback we get from farmers in order to develop improved crops that address the problems encountered in the field without creating new problems. This interaction does not have anything to do with GMOs in particular.2. Democracy in practice
The trend for “politically correct” grassroots involvement is, in my view, the result of anti-GMO activism seeking to block the process of adoption by creating the chaos that is inherent in a decision carried by millions. I’d rather see pc read as practically conscious. Every theretical act of democracy must be brought down to earth. Democracy, as it is exercised today, is not about involving the people at every decision step possible, it is rather about letting the people choose their representatives. If these transgress the confidence deposited in them, their re-election is up for grabs.
I am a biochemist myself, but I wouldn’t see any need being asked every time a new medicine is introduced into the market. I trust the regulatory structures and the experts who have worked on its development. Of course, I read about the secondary effects and recommendations of use, and I know that there are mechanisms to take pharmaceuticals that have been shown to be dangerous out of the market.
Many argue that GMOs are only about producing huge profits for the multinationals. If it has got to this point it is mainly a consequence of very effective fear-mongering among the population by opponents of the technology. This has led to such an escalation of costs attached to regulatory requirements that most public research and developments in this area have been delayed by many years.
C) Messengers and the message
1. Who is to interact with the farmers
In many countries, information about agrichemicals and land management is provided by the experts of the companies who sell the products. There is an inherent danger of a conflict of interest here, but companies are under the scrutiny of the state and also of competing companies. It is generally recognised by the large companies nowadays that false statements do not pay in the long term, which is the most important thing for a company to maintain its market share or improve it. Good information and training opportunities are some of the services these companies offer to capture clients. The information materials companies provide are controllable.
Extension work falls under the jurisdiction of government offices, but more often than not in many developing countries these lack the funds to achieve the necessary penetration. There is a good opportunity here to establish alliances between governments and companies—and I don’t mean one preferred company—to maintain a high level of quality and openness in the information provided to farmers.
In the specific case of GMOs, the party most interested in establishing a long term relationship with the farmer is the seed producer. It will not be easy to conceal the fact that other farmers are obtaining better results with different varieties or whether there is no market for the crop the farmer is growing.2. Who’s free choice?
As to the concern that small farmers might be used as guinea pigs to test GMOs, there is no reason to assert such a thing. It has been mainly large farmers who have been experimenting with transgenics for a substantial number of years, and it is the population and farm animals of developed countries who have been eating those products, providing the best possible safety certificate you could attach to the technology as such. Don’t 160+ million hectares dedicated to transgenic crops tell us something about what farmers think about the technology and how the communication channels among them work?
What is my choice to eat produce from old landraces? Did farmers ask my parents when they, more and more, adopted hybrid maize over the years? Does anybody complain that hybrid seed have an additional cost attached to them? We must not forget that a few years down the road, when GM technology will be taken at face value, i.e. an efficient way of introducing individual traits into crops, there will also be publicly available transgenic varieties that farmers can use and multiply at their discretion.
Dr Jorge E. Mayer
Golden Rice Project Manager
Center for Applied Biosciences
University of Freiburg
Stefan Meier Str 8
D-79104 Freiburg, Germany
jorge.mayer (at) zab.uni-freiburg.de
Ph +49 (761) 203 5022
Fax +49 (761) 203 5021
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:09
Subject: 67: Re: Why public participation?
Joanna Goven (Message 59) writes: "...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". I think that her analysis is at the core of this conference. FAO forum organizers would like that we exchange on how to involve farmers when a preliminary question remains to be addressed: Do we dispose of a basic un-biased and clear information for a neutral and non-oriented involvement of the farmers? Only the people who answer yes to that question are interested in asking how. The problem is that, according to me, the people who answer yes have not a neutral position. When they are defending their own job, it is clear that it is difficult for them to have a neutral position (they are at the same time judge and party) and not to transmit a biased message. For those who are not directly involved in this technology but are convinced of the interest of the GMOs, the risk is that they want to involve the farmers to get their approval, not of course to have them participating to a scientific debate for which they are not prepared.
Research Station on Date Palm and Oasis Farming Systems
Email: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
Sent: 31 January 2005 16:09
Subject: 68: Regional organisation of the debates
This is Edo Lin, independent consultant.
I would like to refer to the issue raised by Bridget Hogg (Message 54) about regional organisation.
The African Policy Dialogues on Biotechnology (APDB) is a joint initiative from NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development) and IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institite). Although it does not address the rural population directly, the initiative is aimed at national and regional consensus. Rural populations will at a certain stage need to be consulted.
The expected outputs of the dialogue are:1. Increased understanding among key national and regional policymakers and policy shapers regarding major developments and applications in biotechnology in Africa, including significant gaps and priority constraints;
These expected outputs were confirmed in a Statement of Committment in September 2004. Background and a number of relevant documents can be found on the website www.ifpri.org/africadialogue/
309, rue de Bombon
tel and fax: +33 164387844
e-mail: lin.edo (at) free.fr