Biotechnology

Responsible Research and Innovation: A Concept Worse than the Precautionary Principle

A debate over biotechnology previews the regulatory innovation that could stop innovation

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StiflingInnovation
inc.com

"Should we be grateful or should we be warned?" asked the Cato Institute's Marion Tupy as he opened Wednesday's debate on "GMOs and the Future of the Global Food Supply." The participants were Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robert Fraley, a World Food Prize laureate; and Jennifer Kuzma, a professor in the Genetic Engineering and Society Cluster at North Carolina State University.

Fraley's non-confrontational talk noted that 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the first commercially available biotech-enhanced crops. He pointed out that world population is likely to grow from 7.4 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050 and all those people will all want to eat—and to eat better diets. Food demand is projected to double, and more people will be dining on steaks, chops, and poultry. This food will have to be wrested from a more challenging environment, as the globe warms and water becomes relatively scarcer. Fraley argued that genetically enhanced crops will play an important role in meeting that demand.

The U.S. regulatory system applied to genetically enhanced crops was cobbled together in the mid-1980s. The Food and Drug Administration determines that the food derived from biotech crops is safe to eat; the U.S. Department of Agriculture establishes that it is safe to grow; and the Environmental Protection Agency decides that it is safe for the environment. "In the nearly 20 years that these products have been on the market," Fraley declared, "they have delivered numerous benefits to growers and the environment and have not had a single documented instance of harm to human or animal health."

The benefits of modern biotech crops include increasing the incomes of farmers in both developed and developing countries, reducing pesticide use, boosting yields and thus preserving more land for nature, using less water, preventing soil erosion by requiring less tillage, and even reducing carbon dioxide emissions. A 2014 PLOS One meta-analysis of 147 different studies reported that the widespread adoption of these crops "has reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%."

Fraley also pointed out that modern biotech crops constitute "the most thoroughly reviewed food product in the world." A 2013 comprehensive review of 10 years of biotech crop safety research—encompassing 1,783 separate studies—found that "the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of [genetically engineered] crops; however, the debate is still intense." Fraley also cited research suggesting that improvements in farm productivity, including biotech enhancements, have brought humanity to the point of peak farmland. If current trends continue, as much as 146 million hectares could be restored to nature by 2060; an area nearly two and half times the size of France.

Fraley admitted that Monsanto had screwed up when introducing their new crops. They focused on explaining to farmers the benefits of the crops, but largely failed to talk to consumers. Fraley didn't say so, but this omission by biotech developers provided an opportunity for anti-technology activists, especially those in Europe, to spread misinformation about the new biotechnology. Fraley did note that even the right-leaning French president Nicholas Sarkozy cynically went along with banning biotech corn in 2008 to secure support from the Green Party.

Finally, Fraley suggested that the audience would be surprised to hear that Monsanto actually favored labeling foods made with ingredients from biotech crops. The company is opposed to state-by-state labeling laws and favors a national system. The company has no problem with voluntary labels and specifically cited the USDA's organic products program and the NON-GMO Project as good examples of labeling. Fraley's appreciation of the NON-GMO Project is not reciprocated. The group favors mandatory labels and opposes recent congressional legislation that would pre-empt state GMO labeling laws and set up a national labeling program under the USDA.

Then it was the other speaker's turn. Kuzma quickly challenged the notion that biotech crops are safe. With evidence? Not really. She suggested that taking genes "out their natural context" might have deleterious effects. She darkly noted the concomitant rise of biotech crops with increasing food allergies and cases of irritable bowel syndrome. Suggestive, no? Actually, research has identified no instances of food allergies being provoked by modern biotech crops—and interestingly, the incidence of irritable bowel disease appears to be higher in Europe where growing biotech crops is banned.

Setting those issues aside, Kuzma does not think that regulation of biotech crops is adequate. Instead Kuzma favors "responsible research and innovation." Well, certainly no one wants irresponsible research and innovation. So what is so irresponsible about the current methods of evaluating new technologies? Kuzma complained that the current system of oversight is purportedly based on "sound science." "Sound science is a myth," she declared. "Appeals to sound science have marginalized other values." Why should sound-science evaluations that focus primarily on the health and safety aspects of new technologies and products be privileged over other values, such as maintaining traditional cultures, when it comes to deciding whether they should be permitted to enter the market place? Kuzma dismisses the current paradigm for evaluating new technologies as a "sound-science, values-ignored system" and she wants to put in its place a governance scheme that is "values-respected, science-informed."

Kuzma cited a definition of responsible research and innovation that is apparently taking hold in Europe. It states that responsible innovation "is a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society)."

Clearly, the concept of permissionless innovation is anathema to Kuzma. Mercatus Institute fellow Adam Thierer defines this as "the notion that experimentation with new technologies and business models should generally be permitted by default." He adds, "Unless a compelling case can be made that a new invention will bring serious harm to society, innovation should be allowed to continue unabated and problems, if they develop at all, can be addressed later." Basically, Thierer recognizes that nearly all progress is made through a process of trial and error, with errors being corrected as they arise. Human beings are terrible at foresight, and we tend to be more psychologically disposed to see unintended disaster in innovation than to appreciate its unintended benefits.

Instead of permissionless innovation, Kuzma prefers the precautionary principle—the notion that a proposed activity should be proscribed unless there is a scientific near-certainty that it will cause no harm. As generally practiced, this privileges very conservative risk-averse environmentalist values over what, to other people, may be equally or more compelling values. Kuzma also advocates "anticipatory governance," in which regulators try to foresee and avert the unintended bad consequences of proposed new technologies. Never mind any unintended consequences that "anticipatory governance" would have on technological progress, economic growth, and human well-being.

In any case, governance of innovation, according to Kuzma, should include assessments of ethical affronts, economic impacts, psychological well-being, and cultural disruption. And who should do the considering? Well, of course, it should be done democratically and through wide consultation with stakeholders. (Stakeholder: someone who has an opinion.) What could possibly go wrong with a regulatory—sorry, "governance"—system that eschews reliance on relatively objective criteria such as health and safety effects?

To answer Tupy's opening question: We should be grateful to tech innovators like Fraley, and we should be warned about regulatory innovators like Kuzma.

NEXT: English as a growing lingua franca, and why Mandarin is unlikely to replace it

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  1. I really really wish we had a system whereby only victims (or their guardians) could file complaints, and where losers had to pay all court costs and all winner’s case costs. These damned fools wouldn’t get a free ride on interrupting everybody else’s progress.

    1. Scare,

      We benefit from lots of ideas and product and people imported from other countries. The Frozen North, Canadia or something, has medical tort caps and a dedicated and good legal team that helps Docs defend law-fare attacks that jam our medical costs. We could long ago have both used this for our medico-legal system (actual term, by the way) and also transposed it along with the Brit “looser pays” idea that you describe in your post. So why don’t we steal these ideas? Maybe if Trump asks Rand to join him as VP, or makes him some cabinet official with Oomph, one or both of them might take it up. If Stossel was put in the cabinet, I think we’d see both of these.

      1. “Psychological impact”… Need I say more?

        I stayed up sleepless for 12 nights in a row, worrying about GMOs, and went crazy…

        ALL to be blamed (obviously!) on GMOs and their creators!!!

        Now ye must all pay and pay and pay and pay…

  2. I’ve made $76,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student.I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money.It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.

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  3. Genetic Engineering and Society Cluster

    Truth in labeling.

  4. Had this conference addressed climate change, can you imagine the response to the analogue of Kuzma?

    1. Depends on whether Kuzma had spoken in favor of a “precautionary principle” wrt using fossil fuels, or wrt climate change mitigation. I suspect it’s the former rather than the latter.

  5. “My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do..

    Clik This Link inYour Browser…….

    ? ? ? ? http://www.Jobstribune.com

    1. I made eleventy-billion dollars doing nothing but breathing! No link to follow!

  6. “Kuzma dismisses the current paradigm for evaluating new technologies as a “sound-science, values-ignored system” and she wants to put in its place a governance scheme that is “values-respected, science-informed.”

    jesus that sounds like a bad joke. and a terrible idea. i really dislike the conceit of history being circular (too facile, and too depressing), but apparently now some parts of europe have pretty much lapped less progressive clingers. maybe its not circular so much as people just being consistently stupid. irritating either way

    1. Eman,

      yeah, just amazing that even with our overburdened with Regs, and overtaxed via Obamacare job creation and expansion situation, most of the EU is worse. With these attitudes, its easy to see why.

    2. Jesus it sounds like none of her business. Fuck you and your “values” Kuzma. Of course she wants it democratically decided because people are stupid and easily misled by crusading zealots. Democracy and values only seem to apply when they are convenient. When a bunch of baptists want to ban alcohol and abortions values don’t matter but when a proggie doesn’t like something other people are doing community opinion is suddenly critical (while they whip up the holy activist army of the stupid into a frenzy).

      In reality I could care less what community values are in any context. If you don’t like what your neighbor is doing that is just tough. Feel free to move.

      1. what about their [positive] freedom to live wherever they want [without any irritations)?

        1. A very good point everyone knows positive is better than negative. To suggest otherwise implies you hate math …. and science.

      2. People like her only want “democratically decided” decisions that accord with their own views. It’s akin to progressives who argued “civil rights shouldn’t be up to a vote” when it comes to same sex marriage, but have no problem insisting guns or religious belief be subject to the Democratic process.

  7. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.richi8.com

  8. I would like to someday hear a reasonable argument from the anti-GMO crowd theorizing how GMO crops are supposed to harm us. We eat and digest our food. We don’t mingle our DNA with its DNA. OK, yeah, it’s possible that a human engineered plant might produce unexpected chemicals that might harm us but no profit seeking company would bring a product to market without knowing that all downsides have been covered.

    1. the. debate. is. over. we all know that when you eat something you absorb it’s soul and superpowers, so how can you say that our dna isnt mingling? i, for one, really really like science!

      1. Yeah! I once ate a whole liberal and I felt the need to give away everyone else’s money!

  9. my classmate’s mother-in-law makes $78 hourly on the computer . She has been out of work for 6 months but last month her check was $17581 just working on the computer for a few hours. view website

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  10. Kuzma cited a definition of responsible research and innovation that is apparently taking hold in Europe. It states that responsible innovation “is a transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other with a view to the (ethical) acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability of the innovation process and its marketable products (in order to allow a proper embedding of scientific and technological advances in our society).”

    Could we apply this principle to social science research, please? I consider Kuzma’s research to be irresponsible and risky. Perhaps society should put a stop to it?

    1. And it is definitely not “values-respected, science-informed”. In fact it violates principles of acceptability, sustainability and societal desirability. Clearly the precautionary principle says we should throw her in jail and deny her any access to the internet.

  11. “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of [genetically engineered] crops; however, the debate is still intense some people still hate GMOs despite the huge benefits and lack of any significant counterbalancing hazards.”

  12. Famine is a cultural value of SJWs like Comrade Stalin (Collectivization) and Chairman Mao (the Great Leap Forward). SJWs are correct to oppose any GMO development that might disrupt this cultural value of theirs.

  13. I’ve made $76,000 so far this year working online and I’m a full time student.I’m using an online business opportunity I heard about and I’ve made such great money.It’s really user friendly and I’m just so happy that I found out about it.

    Open This LinkFor More InFormation..

    ??????? http://www.workpost30.com

  14. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Meyer has gone som far as to Support the practice “Work at home” that I have been doing since last year. In this year till now I have earned 66k dollars with my pc, despite the fact that I am a college student. Even newbies can make 39 an hour easily and the average goes up with time. Why not try this.

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  15. my classmate’s mother-in-law makes $78 hourly on the computer . She has been out of work for 6 months but last month her check was $17581 just working on the computer for a few hours. view website

    ???????========[] http://www.Jobstribune.com

  16. Biotechnology as it relates to genetically modified organisms and specifically food production is the least of our worries. If we can not first control and then reduce worldwide human population we are doomed. Producing more food will only result in a very temporary respite. Advances in genetics will also result in much longer and healthier lives for those fortunate enough to benefit. Unfortunately, that will also contribute to population growth. Sadly, it is likely that governments will need to mandate population control. In fact, in the not too distant future, we may well require all conception to be in vitro in order to correct identified genetic defects. Given recent advances in artificial gestation, it is quite possible that the government will regulate the entire reproduction process. Making babies the ‘old fashioned’ way will be taboo. Who knows what technological innovation will do to society, but the changes are coming faster than ever. Hopefully, we will be prepared to deal with the consequences.

  17. We are quickly going from that which is not prohibited is permitted, to that which is not permitted is prohibited. The overuse of the “precautionary principle” will be our doom.

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