1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Cesagen · News

Cesagen Researchers' New Zealand Visit

13.03.2012

Introduction

Brian Wynne and Oscar Forero visited New Zealand in February to speak at the a conference in Wellington, and deliver a lecture at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Story

Professor Brian Wynne was invited to give the final keynote address to the Inaugural Asia-Pacific Science Policy Studies Research Conference in Wellington in February. It is the first conference of this kind to be held in New Zealand.

Dr Oscar Forero was awarded a travel grant from the Asia-Pacific Science, Technology and Society Network to present his paper: Mapping the epistemological translation: Revising the critique of geographical information systems as instruments of cultural assimilation.

Following this, the pair visited the University of Canterbury, Christchurch where they had been invited to give a lecture by Joanna Goven, Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences.

brian NZ 2012

In this lecture, entitled: European and Global Political Economies of Agricultural Sciences: GMOs, risks, and neglected innovation pathways, Brian (a science studies specialist) and Oscar (an anthropologist) presented some of Cesagen’s multiple and interdisciplinary work on the issues involved in considering the role which genetically modified crops might play, and the role which they have been promoted to play, in the more important issue of global food security and access for food-impoverished peoples.

Brian (a science studies specialist) and Oscar (an anthropologist) presented some of Cesagen’s multiple and interdisciplinary work on the issues involved in considering the role which genetically modified crops might play, and the role which they have been promoted to play, in the more important issue of global food security and access for food-impoverished peoples. Read more>>

Read Professor Wynne's recent letter to The Guardian concerning some of these issues.

European and Global Political Economies of Agricultural Sciences: GMOs, risks, and neglected innovation pathways

Brian first referred to UK and European ways of framing science, publics, and the GMOs: In the perceived crisis of European lack of, even fear of innovation, and for a globally competitive European bio-based knowledge economy, GM crops and foods have been seen as crucial, almost a defining element of scientific innovation and economic viability. Risks have been treated as limited and entirely manageable, and public concerns, still a majority view in Europe, dismissed as ignorant and irrational - delusions infiltrated by anti-scientific NGOs. The UK chief scientist Sir John Beddington described them in early 2011 as pseudo-science which is immoral, and which should be treated with the same degree of intolerance as we exercise for homophobia or misogyny. The intensely moralistic mood was engendered by the view that opposition to scientifically approved GM crops is – as then-US President Bush accused the EU in 2004 – tantamount to consigning the world’s poor to starvation. When one of us (BW) was vice-chair of a UK Food Standards Agency Steering Group for a public dialogue on GM crops-foods in 2009, his condition of agreeing to serve, namely that the dialogue must not be a pro-anti GM debate, but a debate as to the proper role(s) of GM alongside other forms of agriculture, in addressing global food security and sustainability challenges, was regularly ignored in practice. The public issue was defined by government and by scientists as a scientific issue only (risk), deleting for example the social, political and economic issues – such as concentration of ownership and control over the essential resources of the global food chain, seed, knowledge, and land - which are part of GM as a real technology, as well as safety and efficacy scientific issues.

Brian explained how this UK political framing of what then became defined as ‘reason’ versus ‘unreason’ corresponds to the European Commission (EC)’s framing of centralised technical risk-authorisations of GMOs, through the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s GM scientific panel, and member-state divergences from this pro-GM policy being represented as scientific revelation only (- “the risks are found to be acceptable”). Recent developments in EU policy to allow member-state divergences from central EC-EFSA approvals of GMOs, but only on non-scientific grounds, would be explained and discussed. At the same time, other possible agricultural innovation trajectories which this GM superfixation obscures, will be indicated.

Oscar addressed the question ‘Do agro-food industries and policies continue to run under the supply driven innovation model?’

oscar NZ 2012

Oscar first summarised how during the last two decades development studies, political ecology and Science and Technology Studies have developed a wide-ranging multi-dimensional critique of the way technology and innovation for food and agriculture develops. A frequently highlighted concern in this critique is that whilst implementation of property (including intellectual property) rights seems to be fully supported by governments in developed and (unevenly in) developing countries, the same effort is not displayed with respect to implementation of Human Rights, particularly the right to adequate food. Indeed many subsistence farmers have been excluded from their land in the claimed drive to increase productivity using chemicals and energy-intensive (including GM) production-methods, to the neglect of sustainability or access and justice questions. It has been argued that technological innovation for food and agriculture is ‘supply driven’, and is characterised by an increasing concentration in a small number of crops which best fit the dominant (and domineering) capital and chemicals-energy-intensive agricultural imaginary. If the critique were correct no major shifts in research paths would have occurred in the last two decades and significant concentration of research around some favoured crop species would be continuing to occur. One way to test this hypothesis is to look at patent documents, particularly at patent claims. At Ceagen, a digital methods (Sociomics) unit has been doing just that. A first glimpse at these results seems to corroborate the view that the under utilised crop species which we and others have identified continue to receive little attention from research and development institutions and therefore receive little if any consideration when defining food security strategies.

Oscar and Brian then discussed with the public the ways in which these findings correspond with the critical argument that innovation trajectories in global agriculture are being dominated, directed and driven by political economic interests in ‘concentrated’ GM technologies which allow greater extent of ownership and thus exploitation of intellectual property rights, while excluding and destroying the possibilities of alternatives – both in crops selected, and in modes of production and breeding, which would lend themselves to more open and distributed, less energy and chemicals intensive, thus perhaps more just and food-security sustainable forms of agricultural innovation which remain knowledge-intensive, but in different forms.

Graphic

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