NABC Report 05: Agricultural Biotechnology: A Public Conversation About Risk

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Published 1993 by NABC.

In May 1992, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a request for comments on labeling of biotechnology-based food products that are and a National Academy of Sciences report addresses pesticides in the diets of infants and children.

At the NABC 5 roundtable different scientific and personal views were expressed about the risks and benefits associated with various technologies. Specific products of biotechnology were selected to draw out a number of issues—the role of facts, values and emotions in assessing risk. Both, technical and other risks and benefits must be considered, though neither is easy to quantify.

According to Roger A. Balk, key elements of a risk assessment system to evaluate biotechnology products should be the principle of informed consent; scientific and statistical cost/benefit analysis; and a process to combine principles with data to guide regulation. Communication and the choice of which means of communication people turn to play a vital role in the public’s view on the risk of biotechnology. However, rarely does the public get insight into the extensive amount of data gathered during the regulatory process. While there is general optimism regarding agricultural biotechnology as a whole, there is more concern about specific products and desire from the public for more detailed information. Since newspapers tend to focus on controversial items they often select what the public wants, not necessarily what would be most important to provide information on which sound risk assessment can be based. There is a need to develop a better way to provide scientific education and information.

Hazard; risk; risk analysis; risk assessment; risk management, characterization and communication must be part of the regulatory process. Science (risk assessment) and policy/decision-making must be kept separate. While pharmaceuticals have long been regulated, agricultural products have not and it is not easy to fit agricultural research into the regulatory environment.

Four workshops were held and provided recommendations: 1. Technical Risk Assessment and Regulations; 2. Public Assessments of Benefits and Risks; 3. Public Values: Benefits and Harms; and 4. Public Communication about Risk


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 10 of 12
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    Martin, Marshal A. (NABC, 1993)
    Roundtable discussion by meeting participants and speaker panel
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    Telling public stories about risk
    Dunwoody, Sharon (NABC, 1993)
    Learning how people use information to inform their risk judgments is difficult. One element is the influence of channel. Individuals will use different channels to help them make decisions about different dimensions of a risk. We must be clear about our communications goals and select channels that fit with those goals.
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    Public Values and Risk Assessment
    Balk, Roger A. (NABC, 1993)
    There is great difficulty in exercising informed consent [in agricultural biotechnology] because the monolithic distribution system tends to restrict action to all or nothing.
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    Communicating with the public about risk
    Bishop, Jerry E. (NABC, 1993)
    Inevitably, one interest group will accuse the media of needlessly scaring the public while another interest group will charge that the media are failing to alert the public to a deadly danger.
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    Risk assessment: A farmer’s perspective
    Erwin, Will (NABC, 1993)
    Farmers are increasingly anxious economically as they have felt the agricultural depression. They are increasingly uncomfortable about seemingly endless environmental hazards. There is increasing fear of unreasonable regulation. and even of entrapment—where farmers may follow all the rules and be found negligent, or where they may make Farmers tend to trust their communities, but are less comfortable with their.
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    Public perceptions of the benefits and risks of biotechnology
    Hoban, Thomas J. (NABC, 1993)
    Survey research can contribute a valid mechanism for public participation. Regulations must still be based on the best available science. Public policy will always include economic and political considerations. If done right, surveys can reflect the views of a diverse cross section of citizens.
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    Risk assessment: A technical perspective
    Fuchs, Roy L. (NABC, 1993)
    All three regulatory agencies in the U.S. issued draft or final policies during 1992 outlining their policies on regulating genetically engineered plants. The philosophy is based on the concept of “substantial equivalence.”
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    Regulatory risk assessment: A view from the Potomac
    MacKenzie, David R. (NABC, 1993)
    Risk management is the process of determining what to do about a characterized risk. This includes risk prevention, as well as the identification, selection and use of mitigating measures to reduce risk. Environmental risk management considerations often include social, economic and political judgements. The process of risk management should be institutionally separated from risk assessment.
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    Workshop reports
    Goldburg, Rebecca; Greenlee, William F.; McKinney, Ted A.; Sorenson, Ann; Newsome, Rosetta; Russow, Lilly-Marlene; Bolluyt, Karen; Judson, David (NABC, 1993)
    Workshops on technical risk assessment and regulations; public assessments of benefits and risks; public values: benefits and harms; public communication about risk. Reports and recommendations.
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    Putting It In Context
    Hullar, Theodore L. (NABC, 1993)
    Biotechnology is quickly moving into the center of biological sciences. It is providing for new products which promise to add much to commerce and industry, including specific biomedical therapies and dramatically improved agricultural practices and products but also spawns strong, even fierce, controversy about manipulation of genome and environment. This paper offers a perspective on major features of this discussion and to suggest specific actions which might be clarify understanding and resolve issues.