AGRICULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT BIOTECHNOLOGY COMMISSION
TWENTY-SECOND COMMISSION MEETING
26 FEBRUARY 2004
NEW CONNAUGHT ROOMS, 61-65 GREAT QUEEN STREET, COVENT GARDEN, LONDON, WC2B 5DA
Professor Malcolm Grant (Chair)
Julie Hill (Deputy Chair)
Dr Dave Buckeridge
Dr Dave Carmichael
Professor Phil Dale
Dr Matthew Freeman
Professor Robin Grove-White
Dr Rosie Hails
Dr Derek Langslow
Professor Keekok Lee
Professor Jeff Maxwell
Dr Sue Mayer
Dr Paul Rylott
Dr Paul van Heyningen
Dr Patrick Erwin
Morning Stakeholder Event
Ade Adeoye, Food Standards Agency
Richard Ali, British Retail Consortium
Graham Brookes, PG Economics Ltd
Professor Neil Bruce, Centre for Novel Agricultural Products
Dr Sean Butler, St Edmund’s College Cambridge
Alissa Cook, Soil Association
Natalia Davie, DTI, Bioscience Unit
Sue Davies, Consumers Association
Dr Simon Edwards, The Royal Society
Dr David Gillham, European Genomics, Syngenta
Anna Hope, English Nature
Dr Pamela Kempton, Natural Environment Research Council
Ged Kerins, GM Enforcement Team, Central Science Laboratory
Pamela Kirby-Johnson, Grain and Feed Trades Association
Julian Little, Bayer CropScience Ltd
Dr Julian Ma, Mucosal Biology & Disease Res. Group, Kings College London
Dr Tom MacMillan, Food Ethics Council
Dr Colin Merritt, Monsanto UK Ltd & SCIMAC
Alison Mohr, University of Westminster
Dr Darren Moorcroft, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Professor Vivian Moses, CropGen
Richard Nicholls, British Sugar
Clare Oxborrow, Friends Of the Earth
Richard Pitts, Office of Science and Technology
Ruth Rawling, Cargill PLC and Banks Cargill
Sarah Resouly, Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities Group
Harald Schmidt, The Nuffield Council on Bioethics
Julie Simpson, Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department
Maggie Smallwood, National Non-Food Crops Centre
Dr Bron Szerszynski, Lancaster University
Professor Joyce Tait, Innogen, The University of Edinburgh
Emily Thompson, Sustainable Farming and Food Implementation Group
Matt Ware, National Farmers Union
Dr Jonny Wentworth, Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution
Linda West, Health and Safety Executive
1. Professor Malcolm Grant welcomed everybody to the meeting and introduced the Commission Members and the Secretary to the audience.
2. In introducing the day he explained that the Commission had been running for four years, having been set up alongside the Human Genetics Commission and the Food Standards Agency, following a Review of the regulation of biotechnology in the UK.
3. In reporting to Government, the AEBC had strived to identify the common ground while reporting the fundamental differences of opinion. In the last four years it had produced three major reports: Crops on Trial (September 2001), Animals and Biotechnology (September 2002) and GM Crops? Coexistence and Liability (November 2003).
4. Professor Grant stated that with these major reports completed and Government poised to announce important decisions about the use of GM crops in the UK, the Commission was looking at a new era of work. What were the new issues that it should be addressing? The Commission had identified four key areas where it felt there was work to be done (further details available in papers AEBC 04/01, 04/02, 04/03, 04/04):
7. The purpose of the meeting was to ask for stakeholders’ views on the proposed workstreams and for input into developing them into a new work programme. The key question for each proposed topic was “Should this be a key topic for the AEBC – and where, in particular, can the AEBC add value?”.
8. Finally, Professor Grant explained that the Commission would like to move away from its past generation of long, complex reports by producing shorter, more frequent outputs and involving the public more in its future work.
9. People were then asked to split into four groups to discuss each of the proposed work topics.
10. For notes of the group sessions please see Annex A.
11. Professor Grant began the plenary session by asking chairmen to summarise the discussion in each of the groups.
Public/Private Research Agendas – Judith Hann
12. There had been unanimous support for the Commission to investigate this area in some way, and a lot of discussion about how research funding and drivers had changed in recent times. Gaps and inconsistencies in research agendas needed to be identified. There was a need for an overarching strategic framework to guide research agendas, with the possibility of an overarching body to deliver this. Other group members commented that the Commission’s added value in this area would come from its critical distance, if it could take a “big-picture” view across all sources of research funding.
13. Other areas identified where the remit and broad membership of the Commission could add value were in looking at the public acceptability of research and engaging the public in setting research agendas; in reviewing the efficiency of technology transfer from public research; in investigating intellectual property issues; and in identifying policy instruments to encourage privately funded research to deliver more public goods.
Non-Food Crops – Justine Thornton
14. The group had agreed that this was a huge area and one where there was already a great deal of ongoing work by other organisations. However, the group had identified several aspects of the topic where the Commission could add value and give a wider perspective:
15. Other group members commented that the crops selected for case studies need not necessarily be close to market.
Global Influences on the UK GM Agenda – Robin Grove-White
16. The group discussion had been rich and brought a wide variety of perspectives to the table. There had been enthusiasm for looking at the implications and consequences of UK consumers’ desire for non-GM products, taking into account the global nature of agricultural markets. The overall conclusion had been that, though its interest had been stimulated relatively late, the Commission could add value in this area, especially in bringing these issues into the public focus.
17. Several useful insights had been learned in the group discussion. For example, it had been suggested that rather than continuing to export soya for animal feed, Brazil might turn increasingly to added-value animal production itself, using its own feed. Secondly, the possibility was raised that the US might revert to being the major non-GM producer for European markets.
18. Two important suggestions to widen the scope of the study had been made: first, to look at the implications of UK biotechnology policy decisions on developing countries as well implications in the other direction; and second, to consider GM animals as well as crops.
Taking Stock – Matthew Freeman
19. The group agreed that it would be valuable for the Commission to re-visit previous reports and record the progression of their recommendations both in influencing Government policy and other value that they had added to the debate. The Commission should also identify whether it had carried out work at the right time and whether any opportunities had been missed. This work should be kept short and stakeholders should be invited to comment to offer different perspectives on what the Commission had achieved.
20. The Commission’s ability to carry out public engagement was important. The Commission should explore different ways of communicating and engaging with the public. The group suggested that the Commission undertake a research study with other bodies that had similar functions to evaluate public engagement exercises. The key issue was how to engage with the large ‘silent majority’.
21. The group discussed the arguments for and against the overarching theme of biotechnology and sustainability. It was argued that sustainability was a fad and not well defined. There were also numerous other bodies responsible for developing policies in this area. It would only be worthwhile for the Commission to work, for example, within the concept of sustainable development if it could add unique value to its outputs and in no way constrain it from doing things which fall outside of this framework (paradigm).
22. The group suggested that the Commission’s remit be broadened as it had reached the boundaries several times in its past work.
23. Professor Grant suggested that the general discussion began with a look at how the Commission could engage with the public more effectively. It had already pioneered new approaches in the field with the GM Nation? public debate, the use of focus groups and advisory boards, a commitment to holding its Commission meetings in public etc. It would be important in future to learn from past experiences while looking for new innovative methods of public engagement.
In discussion, the following points were raised:
24. The methodology for public engagement would depend on how ‘the public’ was viewed. One option was to consider individuals as having pre-formed views and therefore to design an exercise to capture that range of opinions. A second option was to consider public opinions as a more emergent phenomenon, the result of a number of interactions and preconditions. In this case, it would not be enough to simply sample views, but consideration of how the design of the consultation event would impact the resulting views was also necessary.
25. It was suggested that the ‘silent majority’ that did not engage in public debate would have the greatest influence on the market. It would be difficult to get a real understanding of how the public as a whole would behave as consumers, in spite of what may be found in surveys.
26. Many engagement exercises led to a self-selecting group of participants and policy makers should be made aware of the implications of this. It was suggested that there were a number of reasons why people engaged in public debates such as that on GM. Firstly, some people participated as they felt there may be a potential benefit to them (e.g. cheaper food); secondly, they might have strong principles about the issues, either for or against. It was suggested that it may be more productive to try and engage those in the former group, as well as those who had not previously considered the issues in-depth. It may also be helpful to consider paying people for their participation to ensure a wider range of involvement.
27. Accountability went hand in hand with public engagement. The public had to feel that the results of engagement would be taken into account in policy making.
28. Although the primary role of the Commission was to advise Government, their reports would be in the public domain through press coverage etc, so the public would be aware of its advice even without formal public consultation/engagement exercises.
29. It was felt that the Commission could add most value by considering those issues that were currently controversial or difficult to resolve. The Commission agreed that they would continue to act in an open and transparent manner and bring in expertise from outside the Commission where necessary to help resolve some of the issues.
30. It would be useful to compare the work of the Commission with other advisory bodies. It was noted that on-line consultations could prove to be a powerful tool, whilst recognising the limitations of this approach, (e.g. with access to the internet)
31. The independence of the Commission was important and should be maintained and made visible to the public. It was suggested that the title ‘AEBC’ was not very public-friendly and a ‘re-branding’ may be helpful when trying to engage the public and to assure them of the independence and high quality work of the Commission. It was noted that the AEBC was already using the name ‘Biotechnology Commission’ informally.
32. Professor Grant thanked everyone for their participation and comments and said that the Commission would be using the afternoon session to decide how to take forward what they had learned from the morning’s discussions. A new work plan for the Commission would be circulated to all attendees for comment once it had been agreed.
Afternoon Session – Commission and Officials only
Introductory Matters and Matters of Report
33. Apologies were received from Helen Browning, Ed Dart and ChiChi Iweajunwa.
34. The Chair opened the meeting by welcoming all present to the meeting.
35. There were no comments on the minutes of the last meeting.
36. The minutes of the Sci (Bio) meeting on 10 February 2004 had been leaked to the press and suggested that the Government would approve commercialisation of the maize used in the FSEs but not the beet or oil seed rape.
37. Following the publication of the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) research evaluating the GM Nation? process there would be a further period of consultation on the report until 30 April 2004.
38. The Chair said that the morning’s event had been a success and demonstrated the usefulness of consulting stakeholders in person, rather than in writing. As agreed before lunch, a proposed work plan would be circulated to stakeholders to enable them to keep track of the Commission’s work and make further comments.
39. The Chair asked Members to e-mail expressions of interest in specific workstreams, and any suggestions of how each workstream could be best handled, to him (copied to the Deputy Chair and Secretary).
Connections Between Workstreams
40. Some Members commented that the three ‘horizontal’ workstreams (non-food crops, public/private research agendas and global influences), while interesting and worth engaging with individually, did not hang together well. The Commission could draw them together by adopting a matrix approach, selecting four or five ‘vertical’ case studies each of which would inform all three ‘horizontal’ workstreams to varying degrees.
41. Other Members felt that, while any overlaps between workstreams should be highlighted, this approach might prove a constraint. It would be difficult to identify case studies that would be relevant to all three workstreams. Case studies for global influences and public/private research agendas would need to be retrospective as well as prospective to learn from past experiences. However, for non-food crops prospective, near-market case studies would add the most value and be most relevant to stakeholders.
42. The Commission agreed that it would be helpful to develop an overarching framework for its future work programme, setting out the context in which the commission was operating and elucidate how the workstreams would be developed. Anna Bradley, Jeff Maxwell and Keekok Lee would work together to produce a draft framework within the next fortnight.
Action: Anna Bradley, Jeff Maxwell and Keekok Lee
43. Members felt that the non-food crops issue presented important issues surrounding choice. A trade-off existed between the risks and having more options available to consumers; examining this would provide the Commission with an opportunity to engage directly with the public.
44. It was agreed that the secretariat would identify suitable non-food crops case studies (not solely those relating to GM, and looking at the UK and international context) that the Commission could focus on for this workstream. The secretariat would also gather information on regulatory procedures and laws relating to non-food crops.
45. Justine Thornton, Dave Buckeridge and Dave Carmichael would re-write the scoping document for non-food crops topic to reflect the morning’s group discussion, and taking into account the new framework. This would then be re-circulated to the whole Commission.
Action: Justine Thornton, Dave Buckeridge, Dave Carmichael
Public/Private Research Agendas
46. Some Members felt that an absolutely necessary first step in the research agendas workstream was to define a ‘vision’ for the future of agriculture that could inform agendas. Stakeholders had given a strong message that such a universal vision needed to be defined and accepted by the different funding sources if research was to be properly targeted and co-ordinated in the future.
47. Other members believed the key policy drivers and the general direction of change in agriculture were clear already. Defining a vision was not a job that the Commission could or should be doing. Rather, the work should take its cue from the results of the public debate and concentrate on the question of whether research agendas address public needs and concerns.
48. It was suggested that the Commission should make an early start on this workstream by reviewing the current research profiles of a variety of public and private bodies.
49. Robin Grove-White and Sue Mayer would re-consider the scoping for the global influences topic in the light of the morning’s stakeholder discussion.
Action: Robin Grove-White and Sue Mayer
50. As the Commission’s report Crops on Trial (September 2001) had been a study of the role of the Farm-scale Evaluations (FSEs) in decision-making on GM, the Commission would be well-placed to comment on the results of the FSEs and the subsequent Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) advice. Crops on Trial had said that the FSEs were unlikely to have one straightforward interpretation and it was suggested that this should be reiterated and expanded upon. Rosie Hails would produce a short draft Commission response to the FSE results in the next three weeks.
Action: Rosie Hails
51. There was agreement that the Commission should revisit its past recommendations to Government, assessing how the Government had responded and evaluating the consequences. The Commission needed to decide whether it wanted to work on issues which were timely, like in Crops on Trial, or whether it wanted to get ahead of the game and look at future issues, like in Animals and Biotechnology. In this regard, it would be useful to assess the value of these two reports.
52. It was suggested that in future the Commission should work continually with the public, as it did during in producing Animals and Biotechnology. Continual engagement with the public would highlight specific issues for the Commission to focus on. The Commission should also incorporate the outputs and lessons learned from the public debate into any future work.
53. The Chair asked the secretariat to draft a desk review tracking the progress of the Commission’s recommendations, which the Commission could then add to.
The meeting closed at 4.10pm.
Public/Private Research Agendas Group
|Chair:||Judith Hann||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Facilitators:||Phil Dale||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Julie Hill||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Present:||Sean Butler||St Edmund’s College|
|David Gillham||European Genomics Syngenta|
|Anna Hope||English Nature|
|Pamela Kempton||Natural Environment Research Council|
|Tom McMillan||Food Ethics Council|
|Sarah Resouly||Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities Group|
|Julie Simpson||Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department|
|Joyce Tait||Innogen, University of Edinburgh|
|Linda West||Health and Safety Executive|
|Paul van Heyningen||Biotechnology Commission Secretary|
1. Judith Hann, Phil Dale and Julie Hill of the AEBC introduced the Commission’s proposal to look at public and private research agendas. During the Commission’s Horizon Scanning exercise (published April 2002) it had become noticeable that an increasing proportion of agricultural research was being carried out by the private sector. For example, the vast majority of plant breeding was done only it produced a profitable variety. “Orphan“ crops and minority applications were neglected, and as a result the “public good” element of plant breeding had diminished. The scoping paper on research agendas (AEBC/04/02) had been developed from these ideas.
In discussion the following points were raised:
2. Stakeholders identified a potential role for the Commission in promoting a common strategic framework to guide all agricultural biotechnology research agendas. Influencing the right people to achieve this would not be easy - Defra’s Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities group had originally aimed to do something similar but had to scale down its scope. However, some felt that the Commission would be well placed to influence high-level decision-makers. Furthermore, there would be value in simply pointing out the need for a framework and more connectedness between institutions.
3. A high-level framework would give a welcome long-term direction to both public and private research agendas allowing, for example, consideration of the possible impacts of climate change on global food security.
4. The current lack of connectedness was not just a problem at the top level, but scientists at all levels found it difficult to communicate with others from different specialisms. More senior generalists and multi-disciplinary programmes were needed. The joint ESRC-NERC-BBSRC Rural Economies and Land Use (RELU) programme was a step in the right direction.
5. Stakeholders commented that publicly and privately funded research had very different aims. Privately funded research was undeniably and rightly targeted towards bringing products to market and generating profit, whereas publicly funded research should transcend short-term goals. However, clever use of policy instrument could encourage private research to deliver public goods: for example, US pesticide approvals were fast tracked if the product had environmental or health benefits. The Commission could identify other examples of this type of policy instrument.
6. Some felt that the trend for public research to increase ties with industry explained why it had lost public credibility. The pressure to patent meant that researchers were less inclined to share knowledge. It was suggested that the Commission should consider whether public research is sufficiently accountable to the public and look at how public engagement with research agendas could be increased. Others felt that, while public engagement was important for setting the overall direction of research, public opinion should not influence the detail of research agendas as this could cause important innovations to be missed.
7. Stakeholders asked whether enough was done to consider how products generated by research could be used for public good (economic and environment benefit) and to promote this use to farmers. The Commission could review the process of technology transfer from publicly funded biotechnology research.
Non-food Crops Group
|Chair:||Justine Thornton||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Facilitator:||Dave Buckeridge||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Present:||Neil Bruce||Centre for Novel Agricultural Products|
|Simon Edwards||Royal Society|
|Julian Little||Bayer CropScience|
|Julian Ma||Kings College London|
|Richard Nicholls||British Sugar|
|Clare Oxborrow||Friends of the Earth|
|Maggie Smallwood||National Non-food Crops Centre|
|Matt Wear||National Farmers Union|
|Patrick Erwin||Biotechnology Commission secretariat|
1. Justine Thornton and Dave Buckeridge opened the discussion by introducing the Commission’s early thinking about the scope and methodology of this proposed topic, in summary:
2. The Commission noted that there had been a large amount of work looking at the potential role of biotechnology in developing non-food crops – it would be inappropriate for the Commission to try and add to this work - it would add little value.
3. However the Commission thought there was work to do on the following two stands.
4. First strand: There was confusion and uncertainty around the current and future regulation of non-food crops and only a limited amount of work on this aspect. Given this, there was a sensible project looking at the implications of the various applications of biotechnology in non-food crops, where regulation will be needed and the extent to which the existing regulatory framework would meet a given need or where current regulations might be a hindrance.
5. Second Strand: By doing the first stand we would have collated and generated detailed information on non-food crops. We could then use this information to test where consumers and the public stood on these issues. Things that this study might consider are:
6. Dave Buckeridge concluded his presentation stressing that the Commission wanted in its future work to engage more with the public and stakeholders. One approach was designing projects involving regular contact with stakeholders with more frequent outputs at the end of individual phases of work rather than a final ‘doorstop’ report. One problem with work in the past had been the narrowness of focus on risks and benefits. The Commission could look at the big picture e.g. general farming practices and the impacts of energy production.
In discussion the following points were raised:
7. On the general approach it was felt that the Commission would probably not add value if it tried to do a general survey of the full scope of non-food crops as set out in the paper. Issues relating to non-food crops were diverse and typically highly specific to individual products or crops.
8. Analysis of the regulatory framework into which products would arrive would be useful. Such analysis should start looking at the broad picture of all risks and benefits then using this information to look at potential gaps and deficiencies of current regulations when applied to potential new technologies/crops as well as the strengths of the existing system.
9. Other issues included the co-existence of food and non-food crops and the use of conventional crops for non-food applications (i.e. without new biotechnological development).
10. Everybody agreed that a good way of narrowing the scope of the study would be to conduct the analysis via a number of carefully selected case studies. Suggestions and comments for case study selection included:
12. The geographical scope of case studies was discussed. Some suggested that the case studies should focus on the UK, others argued that the public perception of the risk of a given product could vary on where that product was produced i.e. in the UK or elsewhere, others agreed that the development of cheap vaccines for use in the developing world might lead to an interesting moral debate
13. It was agreed that the use of the completed case studies to provide the information/stimulus in a study to “test the barometer of public opinion” was a good idea. This could:
14. It was felt that because the issue of non-food crops [as framed here] was relatively new to the public there was an opportunity for an objective/‘unpolluted’ debate.
15. Some stakeholders expressed the view that because the ‘public were against GM’ and the use of non food crops was at an early stage, that while non-food crops seek to gain public acceptance we do not want the risk of all non food crop being seen as GM.
16. Other issues raised included:
17. In a discussion on communication covering the potential non-food crops work stream and the AEBC’s work more generally, the following issues were raised:
18. Either this workstream’s title or the Commission could be used to provide branding for any case studies carried out.
Global Influences Group Note
|Chair:||Robin Grove-White||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Facilitators:||John Gilliland||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Sue Mayer||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Present:||Richard Ali||British Retail Consortium|
|Graham Brookes||PG Economics Ltd|
|Alissa Cook||Soil Association|
|Natalia Davie||DTI Bioscience Unit|
|Sue Davies||Consumers Association|
|Ged Kerrins||Central Science Laboratory|
|Pamela Kirby-Johnson||Grain and Feed Trades Association|
|Paul Rylott||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Harald Schmidt||Nuffield Council on Bioethics|
|Tonima Saha||Biotechnology Commission secretariat|
1. John Gilliland of the AEBC opened the discussion saying that a presentation by the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association had brought to the Commission’s attention the difficulties in sourcing non-GM soya for feed. After the BSE epidemic in the UK, animal product in feed had been banned and it was difficult finding appropriate vegetable-based alternatives. This raised difficulties for producers trying to meet market demand for non-GM products and there was a real possibility in the future that it would not be possible to source a variety of non-GM products at a reasonable price.
2. There were also possible future problems with the sourcing of non-GM seeds. The majority of seeds grown in the UK were sourced from abroad and there were likely to be future difficulties in finding sources that could guarantee an acceptable level of adventitious presence.
3. Sue Mayer from the AEBC added that a significant aspect of this project would be to consider the implications of these issues on consumer choice in the UK. It would therefore be important to raise public awareness and engage people in discussion on these issues. There was also an important role to play in considering how Government and others should respond to public opinion in this field.
In discussion the following points were raised:
4. It was suggested that much work had already been done on these issues and the Commission would need to ensure that they were fully informed on the full breadth of issues encompassed in this project. It was suggested that industries in the food chain and retail sector were already taking actions to address these issues. It was important to remember that these systems were working in a market economy.
5. However, there was some work to be done to bring these issues into the public focus and investigate consumer reactions to the choice implications of international GM decisions.
6. It was stated that the top three drivers for consumer choice were price, taste and quality – GM concerns featuring fairly low down the list. Consumer testing would therefore be useful in this field as there would be cost implications all the way along the supply chain.
7. It was suggested that there could be problems for consumers with the affordability of non-GM products in the future. However, it was also noted that there was likely to be a downturn in the price of commodities, and changes to the proportion of income spent on food etc so there may not be problems of affordability per se. It would be important to take a long-term view when considering such issues.
8. With increasing costs, there was the potential risk that the added value of production would essentially be exported to other countries from the UK, leading to difficulties in assuring consumers that their products are GM free. The longer the food chain, the more complicated this would be.
9. A better understanding of food competition was needed. For example, it was assumed that there were only 5 main players in the food retail market, although a large number of smaller operators also existed and could be influential in the market. It was also noted that although the main retailers had been keen to ensure their own brands were GM-free, they were still stocking branded products that did not have these assurances.
10. Further consideration was needed on the drivers behind the choice of farmers in other countries to grow GM crops. It was noted that:
11. It would be important to note that the difference in cost between GM and non-GM products was not solely down to the cost of Identity Preservation Systems (IPS). It would however be helpful to consider what sort of infrastructure would be needed in developing countries to enable the IP systems that would meet UK requirements, and who would finance them.
12. It should not be assumed that it was ‘inevitable’ that all soya would become GM due to the situation in Brazil. There were other possible sources of soya and it was possible that sourcing would revert back to the USA for example if tighter IP thresholds were introduced/required.
13. It was suggested that the EU current stance on GM had already had an influence on the spread of countries growing GMs, the areas in which they were grown, rate of uptake etc.
14. In recognition that the UK does not operate in a closed economy, the Commission could also consider the implications of UK policy on other countries, (especially those in the developing world). It was noted that the recent Nuffield Council on Bioethics report and the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit cost-benefit report had highlighted these issues.
15. The scope of the project could be extended to look at GM animals (e.g. fish) as well as plants.
Taking Stock Group Note
|Chair:||Matthew Freeman||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Facilitators:||Rosie Hails||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Jeff Maxwell||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Present:||Ade Adeoye||Food Standards Agency|
|Derek Langslow||Biotechnology Commission Member|
|Keekok Lee||Biotechnology Commision Member|
|Alison Mohr||University of Westminster|
|Bron Szersynski||Lancaster University|
|Emma Knox||Biotechnology Commission secretariat|
1. Matthew Freeman opened the discussion by suggesting that the group explore three issues in the session:
2. Rosie Hails explained that the scoping-note for this workstream suggested that the Commission follow up its previous reports and recommendations to Government and that it also reviewed its working methods, in particular the effectiveness of its communication with stakeholders.
In discussion the following points were raised:
3. It would be necessary to identify what, if any, added value the Commission’s reports had compared to reports other bodies had done. If this could not be identified then the Commission had failed in their remit. It would not only be necessary to explore whether Government had taken notice of the Commission’s advice but also whether it had impacts elsewhere.
4. The group agreed that the Commission should re-visit its previous work but stressed that this should be kept short. The group suggested asking stakeholders for feedback on the impact of the Commission’s previous work as a method of obtaining different perspectives on it.
5. It was mentioned that the Commission would be reviewed this year and that any revisiting of previous work that the Commission undertook should be done with the view of complimenting the reviewer’s work.
6. Some stakeholders questioned whether the Crops on Trial report was a good starting point for the Commission and suggested exploring whether it added any value to the debate at the time. Some argued that it was a missed opportunity while others said that before this could be assessed it was necessary to clarify the principals behind the Commission.
7. The need for the unique value that the Commission adds to issues to be made explicit was discussed. Some suggestions were its ethical and socio-economic dimension; that it was multi-disciplinary integrated with science; and its function of advising UK Government.
8. The Commission could usefully respond to the Farm-scale Evaluations (FSEs) in a wider context since the Advisory Committee on Releases into the Environment’s (ACRE) response was very narrow and offered only one option for Government policy.
9. No-one in the group opposed the Commission’s existence although it was felt that the Commission should only continue to exist if it had something unique to add to the debate.
10. Some stakeholders felt that the Commission’s remit should be broaden to resolve the problem of hitting its boundaries.
11. The group discussed the difficulties surrounding engaging the public with science. Generally the public’s familiarity with science was poor and the public did not know what specific forms of technology were about.
12. The Commission could learn from others how to present highly technical issues to the public, although public engagement was not just about technical issues but also economics, regulations, philosophy, ethics, etc.
13. The Commission could do a collaborative exercise with other national and/or international bodies to assess the success and failures of different public engagement exercises. A key part could be exploring how to engage members of the public who did not already hold special interests in the subject, e.g. ‘the silent majority’.
14. The Commission’s remit included advising the UK Government on the public acceptability of biotechnology issues which impact on the environment and agriculture. Therefore the need for dialogue between the Commission and the public was emphasised; the Commission should both communicate to and take on board the views of the public.
15. In some public engagement exercises the quality of the scientific information provided had been neglected. Science should not be communicated in an over-simplified, patronising manner, e.g. the GM Nation? stimulus material contained no references.
16. The group discussed the problem of defining ‘the public’ and it was suggested that triangulation could help to draw in a range of views. It was important to view the public as a plurality, using an algorithm to check that views were representative might prove useful.
17. The public could either be defined as a group of individuals or as several groups of individuals who interact with one and other. The structure of interaction ratifies different forms of publicness and there were different rules of engagement for each. The Commission could explore whether there was a range of methodologies that could be used to engage different groups of public.
18. The biotechnology and sustainability theme could provide a link between the work of the Commission and the UK Government’s sustainability agenda, with outcomes being set in a broader policy context. The Commission would not be studying or trying to solve sustainability but inputting it into everything it produces.
19. The following questions were raised: is biotechnology and sustainability a reasonable framework in which to consider issues within the Commission’s remit, and how can one consider the social dimension of sustainability?
20. It might be useful to look at the work that is going on already on biotechnology and sustainability and identify whether there was a gap which the Commission could fill, e.g. do a desk study of whether the work being done already addresses the social and ethical issues.
21. The values within sustainability are conflicting and it would be necessary to balance other aspects of sustainability with the social, ethical and environmental. The Commission could consider developing a set of questions from the sustainability agenda.
22. The definition of sustainability could be both too broad (and therefore could have a very vague meaning which could make it a useful term) and too narrow, which ran the risk of excluding other ways of thinking about ethics, morality, social issues, etc. It also might prevent the Commission from doing other work which did not fit within this theme.