Law and Decision Making for a New Technology
Biotechnology Regulation series
Chapter 1: Introduction
Biotechnology astonishes in its ingenuity and its potential. It confers the ability to change the characteristics of living organisms potentially without limit, transferring genetic information and traits across species. It grants the capacity to increase control over our surroundings, benefiting the environment, farmers and consumers, as well as the very poor in developing countries. The transformative potential of agricultural biotechnology, however, cuts both ways, raising profound questions about the type of world we are creating. Resistance is neither surprising nor unreasonable. As Sheila Jasanoff puts it, ‘these far-reaching alterations in the nature and distribution of resources, and in the roles of science, industry and the state, could hardly occur without wrenching political upheavals’.1 The regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) reflects a real tension that pervades the management of all new technologies, between a desire to reap economic and social benefits and concern about unintended consequences.2 The history of technological change might suggest that, although resistance to change is common, it can be overcome, with change eventually normalised. History also reminds us, however, that there can be a dark side to progress, not least the closing down of other possible responses to needs or wants. To take an apposite example, even if we cannot readily identify alternative paths to social benefits, regret for the (perhaps unthought-of) path never taken has to be possible in the face of the huge environmental damage that goes along with the benefits brought by current farming practices. 1 Sheila Jasanoff, Designs on Nature: Science and...