New book chapter: Public engagement in biotechnology innovation – the need for research and the role of ethics


Carson, S.G., Myskja, B.K. and Myhr, A.I. (2021) Public engagement in biotechnology innovation – the need for research and the role of ethics in Hanna Schübel and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer (eds.) Justice and food security in a changing climate, EurSafe 2021 – DOI, © Wageningen Academic Publishers 2021

The promised disruptive potential of genome editing for producing novel agri- and aquaculture products with enhanced qualities has refocused the discussion on non-safety assessments of biotechnological inventions. Since such assessments are based in societal values, the public or their representatives should be involved in handling the normative issues at stake. A starting point of this paper is that such assessments are feasible and justified, given the proper form and level of engagement. Public engagement includes different forms of surveys, focus group interviews, dialogues, and consultations. In this paper we present two recent Norwegian surveys, both with the intention to identify public perspectives on the use of genome editing in animals and plants to be used within agri- and aquaculture. Through an analysis of these two recent surveys, we will show that such approaches tend to fall short when it comes to providing a normative basis for non-safety assessments. For surveys to be appropriate tools for public engagement, it is important that the forming includes a multitude of perspectives on the use of the technology in question. The information material should not be simplified or provide a biased knowledge basis, and the survey should avoid leading questions. By enhancing the research-based framing of public engagement processes, including reflection on and research into the ethical values at stake, these shortcomings could be amended. We argue that in highly contested areas of research such as genome-editing in agri- and aquaculture, public engagement approaches should be based in transparent scientific and normative analyses.

Photo:Андрей Яланский