NABC Report 15: Biotechnology: Science and Society at a Crossroad
Published 2003 by NABC.
The application of modern biotechnology to food and agriculture holds promise of a revolution as dramatic and far-reaching as the domestication of plants 10,000 years ago. Will the road to that revolution be smooth, rough, involve many detours, or lead to a dead end? This question, punctuating the previous fourteen NABC meetings, received a focus and refinement with NABC-15’s theme of a “crossroad.” At what crossroad does biotechnology currently find itself and which road will it take? What other crossroads can be expected in the future?
The conference presented a wide range of crosscutting perspectives on biotechnology’s current crossroad with two main themes: communication difficulties and risk. Various risks are the bases of concern among a wide variety of biotechnology stakeholders; particular risks vary by stakeholder. Some segments of the public worry about the health risks of genetically modified foods while others worry about the risk of concentrated economic power in society. Producers and farmers worry about the substantial financial risks associated with shifts to bioengineered crops. Some scientists worry about the risk of unintended consequences (such as creating resistance to herbicides and insecticides) while others debate the very meaning of risk and the conditions under which it should be assessed and managed.
How in democratic societies can these various risk concerns be reconciled? Although there is no easy answer to this question, one thing is certain: the question itself and the responses it attracts from science, from industry, from government, and from the public will determine the road that biotechnology will take.
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