Restore politics in societal debates on new genomic techniques

Agriculture and Human Values:1-10 (forthcoming)

Abstract

End of April 2021, the European Commission published its study on New Genomic Techniques. The study involved a consultation of Member States and stakeholders. This study reveals a split on whether current legislation should be maintained or adapted to take account of scientific progress and the risk level of NGT products. This split was predictable. New technological developments challenge both ethical viewpoints and regulatory institutions; and contribute to the growing divide between science and society that value ‘technological innovations’ differently. Such controversies are often characterized as ‘unstructured’ because of nearly unbridgeable positions on entangled scientific and value-laden issues. Initiatives for stakeholder involvement, such as consultation or participation, often focus on reaching a ‘shared vision’ without exploring the diverse societal concerns and values behind these positions. To resolve the EU stalemate in NGT regulation, we advocate to bring back politics in the EU decision-making process instead of hiding it under the veil of science, the need for regulatory change and public support. A more productive and justified use of genuine stakeholder participation is possible, if participants and deliberation design meet the criteria of what we call participation ethics. Drawing from our applied experience exploring the ethics of genetic modification, we believe that this approach can lead to more robust political decision-making and restore societal confidence in the governance of contested issues such as NGTs.

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