Agricultural biotechnology: A Public Conversation about Risk

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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.

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Agricultural biotechnology; risk assessment, public perception, science communication; regulation; animal biotechnology; bioethics


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