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Making difficult decisions in agriculture: STOA Workshop

Written by Mihalis Kritikos and Nera Kuljanic,

Sergey Nivens / Fotolia

Scientists have new technological answers to the twin challenges of limiting emissions and feeding a growing population which is simultaneously shrinking the space left for cultivation. However, these answers in turn pose their own ethical and risk management questions. Societal actors and a wide range of stakeholders have long sought to broaden the scope of authorisation and regulation of agricultural biotechnologies to take into account the relevant socio-economic impacts. Assessing the socio-economic sustainability, societal benefits and ethical acceptability of agricultural biotechnologies in the frame of the established risk assessment procedures has, for a long time, been debated at both EU and international levels. However, the increasingly rapid developments in the field of genetic engineering and synthetic biology trigger a need to re-examine the traditional risk assessment model and explore the deployment of methodologies that may further reinforce the responsiveness and inclusiveness of the current framework.

On 25 January 2017, STOA is organising a workshop to discuss these issues, continuing STOA’s practice of discussing the socio-ethical dimensions of techno-scientific developments. The workshop will be chaired by Marijana Petir, MEP and STOA Panel member. Former President (2010-2016) of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), Julian Kinderlerer, will give the opening presentation on innovation and bioethics, and will moderate the event.

What to expect from the event?

The workshop will provide space for a debate on this challenging aspect of public policy and will offer the opportunity to analyse the feasibility and necessity for inclusion of socio-economic considerations into the current framework.

The various methodological options for assessment, the role of participatory involvement in risk governance and the practical steps and indicators that could be introduced in risk assessment and decision-making related to synthetic biology and genetic modification in agriculture will be discussed by Helge Torgersen, of the Institute of Technology Assessment, Austrian Academy of Sciences, and Anne Ingeborg Myhr, of the Genøk-Centre for Biosafety, Tromsø, Norway. For example, in Norway, sustainability, benefit to society and ethics are important criteria in GMO assessment prior to cultivation, import, and use as food or feed. The workshop will look at how this has evolved.

Put simply, if a measure, an action or a policy could harm the public or the environment, and there is no scientific consensus that it is not harmful, then one willing to act must prove the absence of danger. This is known as the precautionary principle, which belongs to the domain of risk management. However, there are differences in the way this is defined and applied across the world. Amir Muzur, from the School of Medicine, University of Rijeka, Croatia, will speak on the comparison between application in the EU and the USA.

How could policy-makers in the EU deal with socio-ethical considerations, as well as the regulatory challenges raised by scientific uncertainty, the speed of technological advance, technological complexity and issues related to public perception? How is this shaping decision-making in the field of agricultural biotechnologies? Register for the workshop before 20 January 2017 and take part in the discussion.

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