New Scientist: Researchers Should Join with Activists in Examining Food Biotech Regulation
In this week's edition of the New Scientist magazine, I have a commentary article on the UK controversy over genetically modified wheat and the lobbying efforts in the U.S. to label food containing GM ingredients. Below is an excerpt:
CONTROVERSY over genetically modified wheat is building to what seems likely to be confrontation in the UK on 27 May.
On that day, the anti-GM group Take Back the Flour has called for protesters to gather 30 minutes from London at the site of field trials, and to "decontaminate" the area by destroying the crop. Researchers involved with the trials have responded with an open letter and video appeal to the protesters, urging restraint.
But as this case and emerging food-biotech conflicts in the US show, an easy, communication-based fix is elusive. If scientists want to ensure they can do such research, they need to join activists in critically examining the system which governs this technology and its commercial use...
...The controversy over GM wheat and the US lobbying underscore the need for scientists to join activists in discussing weaknesses in our regulatory process and commercialisation regimes. Until these are addressed, no amount of smart communication is going to shift the conversation.
Rather than blaming public opposition for limiting scientific enquiry and assuming that communication can fix the problem, scientists should join activists in considering whether the policy arrangements that have long benefited their research are adequate for managing complex questions that transcend environmental and health risks.
In doing so, scientists and food activists are likely to gain a better understanding of each other, and to recognise common ground and points of compromise.
Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.