From risk assessment to in-context trajectory evaluation: GMOs and their social implications

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Over the past twenty years, biotechnologies have raised enormous expectations as wellas passionate political controversies, paving the way to a strong polarization in Europeansociety and to an on-going debate on how should these technologies be assessed.Mainstream approaches have been focusing on risk-assessment procedures. Accordingto this perspective, new technologies should be assessed in terms of their potential riskof negatively affecting human health and in terms of the environmental risks, such ascross-contamination and biodiversity preservation. Yet, the large majority of riskassessmentstudies on GMOs mainly focus on animal trials, trying to detect biologicalor medical anomalies among the animals fed with GM products. Although many ofthese studies have repeatedly claimed that no significant health impact could be detected,their independence and reliability has been contested not only because they havebeen carried out by the same multinational corporations that produce the tested GMOsbut also because the original data have not been released to the academic community forthe studies to be replicated. Moreover, independent studies on GMOs have raised seriousdoubts about health safety in a number of different occasions (Le Curieux-Belfondet al. 2008; Seralini et al. 2009; Seralini, Cellier & Spiroux de Vendomois 2007; Gasnieret al. 2009; Heinemann & Traavik 2004; Traavik & Heinemann 2007).Independently of whether GMOs constitute a direct threat to human health and the environment,risk-assessment approaches have reduced the evaluation of GMOs merely to aquestion of how much risk can a society bear for the introduction of these new productsin the face of their claimed benefits but there is much more to GMOs than the risk/benefit relationship suggests (Ferretti 2009). Many reasons lay behind the emergenceand diffusion of risk-assessment approaches. On the one hand, these approaches supportand strengthen the technological fix attitude that affects post-industrial societies. Problemsthat may have a number of different social, economic or political origins areframed and addressed in terms of a technological solution that allow for a quick, effectivefix that does not call into question these non-technical origins. A clear examplemaybe retrieved in the Syngenta website, where the issue of water scarcity and watersupply all over the globe is reduced to a technical question, whose solution is offeredthrough GM crops with reduced water absorption (, “Bring plantpotential to life” campaign). On the other hand, these approaches positively resonatewith the tendency to delegate essentially political decisions to expert committees, whicheffectively divert responsibility from political actors to techno-scientific networks(Jasanoff 2003). In turn, this process de facto de-politicizes a number of controversialissues, which could otherwise threaten political consensus and stability. As a consequence,the growing momentum of risk-assessment approaches has encouraged a technocratictwist in science and technology policy, which has been criticized on a numberof political and sociological grounds (Weingart 1999; Funtowicz & Liberatore 2003;Nowotny 2003; Felt at al. 2007; Levidow 2009; Ferretti & Pavone 2009).First, it has been argued that risk-assessment approaches take the technology for granted,addressing public opposition to GMOs as a problem in itself. Instead of consideringpublic arguments against GMOs as an opportunity to reconsider the technology from adifferent perspective, producing a wider and more robust assessment of GMOs’ implic
Lingua originaleEnglish
Numero di pagine4
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2010


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