Chapter 8: Informal governance and biotechnology
Mark Rhinard INTRODUCTION The regulation of biotechnology is an explosive issue in politics today. A number of voices, ranging from environmental groups and religious organizations to political parties and industrial coalitions, have joined the debate, adding to a growing cacophony of conflicting opinions. These interests have competing answers to a central policy question: to what extent should government regulate the process of biotechnology, defined as the manipulation of genetic material to produce novel plants, foods, medicines and a wide range of other products? The debate surrounding biotechnology is so loud because the stakes are so high. Industry stands to gain from sales of new products, efficiency gains in production, and increased investment from enthusiastic shareholders in a world market that topped $100 billion in 2000. Scientists recognize the technological breakthrough represented by biotechnology and emphasize its ability to ‘jump start’ further discovery. Environmentalists argue that no less than the ecological sustainability of our planet is at stake, and are generally unwilling to tolerate the perceived health and ecological risks in return for the promised benefits of biotechnology. Demands from these interests are directed squarely at governments which, for the most part, have failed to ameliorate the growing conflict. The upheaval over biotechnology in Western Europe is not new. It reflects a debate that started over 20 years ago, one that animated an early struggle within the European Union policy process. As early as 1978, the EU began formulating legislation to address advances in molecular biology. At that time, science and...
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