Socio-economic assessments should mach scientific risk assessments

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net


To jog one’s memory, Article 26.1 of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety – an international agreement on biosafety that seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks of modern biotechnology – says that countries could  include socio-economic assessments in biosafety regulation processes, including release of genetically modified (GM) technologies. Somewhere along the way, this got sidelined …

At the sixth meeting of parties (MOP-6) on the Cartagena Protocol, in Hyderabad, India, attention turned to a framework for the socio-economic assessment of GM crops.

Views vary.

For example, African countries and Ecuador favour socio-economic assessments  in policy decisions on releasing living modified organisms (LMOs) into the environment; India and Indonesia suggest detailed socio-economic studies; Peru is concerned over the impact of intellectual property rights laws on indigenous communities; and Brazil suggests including impacts on biodiversity and conservation in socio-economic analysis.

There is a lack of awareness among farmers to set aside land as refugia. Credit: Flickr/Bioversity International

Issues that need to be addressed include the high price of seeds, and the availability of hybrids only in some crops; and private sector dominance and the limited share of public sector in the GM sector, Sachin Chaturvedi, senior researcher at the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries (RIS), Delhi, observed at a conference side event on 3 October.

Others are the unmet need for varieties with traits more relevant to small and marginal farmers; and a lack of awareness among farmers to set aside land as refugia.”Asking [small farmers] to make a refugia is like denying them their resources. We are witnessing it in Burkina Faso, and in South Africa,” said Diran Makinde, director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise.

Not all countries have  the capacity for detailed socio-economic assessments, Frederic Perron-Welch, programme coordinator for biodiversity and biosafety law at the Centre for International Sustainable Development  Law (CISDL) in Montreal, Canada, said.  Countries are also divided over, for example, whether socio-economic assessment is different from biosafety risk assessment – and timing of such assessments. There are also not enough case studies to guide policy decisions.

This also means a bigger role for social scientists and economists.

“Social science has a new interface between the needs and interests of modern biotechnologies, and the needs and interests of society,” Michelle Chauvet, from the Autonomous Metropolitan University, Mexico, said.

Each stage in the generation and implementation of new technologies involves a set of choices between different technical options, which are additionally influenced by social factors, she says.

“You cannot impose a technology on society. Or society will rebel.”  Worth thinking this over.

This blog post is part of our coverage on COP-MOP 6 Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety — which takes place 1–5 October 2012. 

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