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Loka Alert 6:2 (20 May 1999) REPORT ON A DANISH "CITIZEN CONSENSUS CONFERENCE" ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS + AAAS SYMPOSIUM ENDORSES LOKA INSTITUTE AGENDA
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IN THIS LOKA ALERT: Science and technology policy in the United States is customarily decided without input from everyday citizens who will be affected. In contrast, a number of other nations have pioneered processes for empowering representative lay citizens to participate constructively in such policy deliberations. This Loka Alert presents excerpts from a first-hand account, prepared by Loka advisory board member Phil Bereano, of a recent Danish "Citizen Consensus Conference" on the topic of genetically engineered foods. Phil's fascinating report represents the first blow-by-blow description available in the English language of a participatory Danish consensus conference. Cheers to all, Dick Sclove, Research Director, The Loka Institute E-mail Loka@loka.org, Web http://www.loka.org P.O. Box 355, Amherst, MA 01004, USA
(1) News Update AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE (AAAS) SYMPOSIUM ENDORSES LOKA INSTITUTE AGENDA In September 1998 the House Science Committee of the U.S. Congress issued a document, entitled "Unlocking Our Future," that proposes a post- Cold War U.S. science and technology policy. Loka Institute Research Director, Dr. Richard Sclove, sharply criticized the House document in an October 1998 _Chronicle of Higher Education_ essay (available on the Web at http://www.loka.org/pubs/chronicle102398.htm). This past December Sclove was one of five plenary speakers invited to address 150 participants in a day-long symposium on the House science policy study. The symposium was organized in Washington, DC by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). AAAS has now issued a report summarizing "the sense of the discussions at the symposium." One of the six recommendations in the AAAS report essentially endorses two of the Loka Institute's key recommendations for democratizing U.S. science and technology policies. This is an important endorsement from an audience composed primarily of mainstream science-and-technology policy practitioners. Quoting from p. 19 of the AAAS report: "CONGRESS SHOULD STRENGTHEN MECHANISMS FOR INVOLVING THOSE WHOSE LIVES ARE AFFECTED BY THE RESULTS OF RESEARCH IN SHAPING S&T POLICIES." "The House Science Committee is to be commended for its attempts to reach out beyond its boundaries for views on the issues under consideration. Nevertheless, it heard public testimony mainly from `the ususal suspects,' traditional science policy constituencies who represent the performers for R&D. Congress should seek input from a broader segment of the general public on science and science policy matters, to better reflect our nation's democratic process." o "Decisions on scientific and technical issues should incorporate input from affected communities and other members of the public, as many European nations have done." o "Congress should examine alternative, community-based forms of research. Community-based research involves affected local communities in setting the research agenda and also in performing the research, and has proved successful in epidemiological and pollution research on local problems." ___________________________________________________________________________ NOTES . The full title of the AAAS Symposium report is _Science & Technology for the Nation: Issues and Priorities for the 106th Congress: Views from the Science & Technology Community on the House Science Committee's Report "Unlocking Our Future"_ (Washington, DC: AAAS, March 1999). This report is available from the Directorate for Science & Policy Programs, AAAS, 1200 New York Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20005, USA; tel. +1-202-326-6600; fax +1-202-289-4950. . On European processes for involving everyday citizens in science and technology policy decisions, see the Bereano essay in this Loka Alert (below). . On community-based research, see the Loka Institute's Community Research Network Web page at http://www.loka.org/crn/index.htm.
(2) REPORT ON DANISH "CITIZEN CONSENSUS CONFERENCE" ON GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS, MARCH 12-15,1999 by Phil Bereano [Editor's Introduction: In April 1997 the Loka Institute and several institutional partners organized the first participatory Citizen's Panel ever held in the United States for deliberating on complex, controversial issues in science and technology policy. Modeled on a Danish-style "consensus conference," the topic of our Citizens Panel was "Telecommunications and the Future of Democracy" (see: http://www.loka.org/pages/panel.htm). Citizens Panels have now been organized about 35 times in 12 different nations, and the process continues to make headway. (For a new, comprehensive list of consensus conferences organized worldwide, see http://www.loka.org/pages/worldpanels.html.)] [Below we reproduce excerpts from a first-hand account of a recent Danish "Citizen Consensus Conference" on the topic of genetically engineered foods. This report represents the first blow-by-blow description and evaluation in the English language of a participatory Danish consensus conference. THE UNABRIDGED, 10-PAGE REPORT BY PHIL BEREANO IS AVAILABLE ON THE LOKA INSTITUTE WEB SITE AT http://www.loka.org/pages/DanishGeneFood.html.] [The lucidity, detail, and nuance of the lay panel judgments summarized in Bereano's report, below, demonstrate convincingly -- yet again -- that well-structured participatory processes eliminate any rational justification for continuing the primitive practice of excluding everyday citizens from publically significant science and technology decisions.] [Author Phil Bereano (Web http://www.uwtc.washington.edu/faculty/bereano/default.htm) is a professor in the Department of Technical Communication at the University of Washington in Seattle and a noted biotechnology critic. He is a member of the Loka Institute's National Advisor Board, and serves on the board of directors of the Council for Responsible Genetics and of the American Civil Liberties Union.] Excerpts from a Report on the Danish "Citizen Consensus Conference" on Genetically Engineered Foods, March 12-15,1999 by Phil Bereano Background The Danish Board of Technology, a quasi-independent agency of the State, and the originator of the "consensus conference" concept, held such a process this spring to produce a citizen-based assessment of genetically engineered foods. The agency has held 18 of these events in the past 12 years. (The process is described in Richard Sclove, "Town Meetings on Technology," published originally in the journal _Technology Review_ and posted at http://www.loka.org/pubs/techrev.htm. See also the Danish Board of Technology's web page at http://www.tekno.dk/eng/index.htm). The following report is based on my observations as an attendee, utilizing informal translation services supplied by a number of gracious Danish colleagues. In two earlier weekends, the panel of 14 citizens, selected to be reflective of the Danish population (gender, age, rural/urban, occupation, etc.), met for preparatory stages of the process. A planning committee established by the Board selected readings and other educational materials for the citizens, in order to begin to educate them on the subject matter and the issues. This planning group also selected a group of experts and stakeholders, representing different points of view on the issues. In this conference experts represented the biotech industry, several research organizations (with expertise in socio-economic impact analysis as well as those with expertise in biotechnology), government agencies (environmental, consumer affairs, etc.), Greenpeace, and NOAH (an organization of Danish scientists committed to social responsibility). The citizen panel, interacting with the planning group, had opportunities to augment both the selection of experts and the education materials. The moderator for the lay panel was from a consulting firm and is also a well-known writer and theater director. The Dialogue This weekend began Friday with sessions in which each of the experts made a 15-20 minute presentation to the citizens' panel. The setting was extremely pleasant -- a converted warehouse facility, light and airy, with visually interesting spaces for meeting and social interaction. A audience of perhaps 150 people was present; coffee breaks, a luncheon and the like provided numerous opportunities for informal exchanges. The citizens, working with the planing group, had come up beforehand with 10 major questions (each subdivided into more detailed inquiries) for the experts to address; each expert was asked specifically to focus on 1 or 2 of these.... [Editor's note: Here Phil Bereano's unabridged report summarizes the participating experts' diverse responses to the questions posed by the Danish lay panel. See http://www.loka.org/pages/DanishGeneFood.html] Production of the Lay Panel's Report On Monday morning the 15th the written report, prepared the preceding day by the lay panel members, was presented and read section by section by the lay panelists themselves. (Their report has been published in English on the Danish Board of Technology's Website at http://www.tekno.dk/eng/publicat/genfoods.htm) In sum, it was fairly balanced, but critical of the technology. One of the things of interest to me was the ability of the lay people to go beyond what was, in my opinion [(Editor's note): as Phil Bereano indicates in his unabridged report], in some respects an unbalanced expert presentation and discussion. While falling short of calling for a moratorium, the lay panel did advocate strict regulation and control of the genetic engineering of foodstuffs. Within this overall position, they called specifically for broad labeling requirements so that consumer choices are guaranteed, and also for public regulation over monopolies in the field. This latter point relates to their concerns about the patenting of genetic technologies. In particular, the lay panel called for an international convention to allow the Third World to use patented plants and plant materials and a legal rule which would categorize unworked patents as abandoned. While declaring that the current genetic engineering of food offers no consumer benefits, the panel could not reject the possibility that the technology might develop in this direction. It called for the clear separation and the protection of organic farming from farming that uses genetically engineered plants, as well as the maintenance of seed banks which would preserve diverse food plants. Calling for more public funding which would increase the competence of government authorities to oversee this technology, the panel also supported the establishment of an insurance fund, supported by industry contributions, which would assure that liability for accidents, etc. would result in compensation. The lay panel understood that the disagreements among experts were ideological as well as technical. Locating the technology within a real social milieu, the panel asked for the establishment of an ethical committee whose deliberations would receive weight equal to that given to technical considerations. (In this context it is important to note that the Danish notion of social ethics is not what exists in the U.S. -- private religiosity and the summing up of individualized ethical decisions -- but is, instead, an independent concept which includes explicit group or community values, such as social solidarity, social equity, and the like. It is a true appreciation of the fact that society is more than the algebraic summation of the individuals which comprise it.) On some particular technical issues, the report expressed a concern about "horizontal gene flow" (that is, the transfer of genetic modifications into nearby plants), and wanted "refugia" to keep resistance from developing. ("Refugia" are pockets of genetically unmodified plants that are used to preserve a population of insects that will remain unadapted to genetic modifications introduced into a surrounding plant crop). It opposed the use of antibiotic markers and also the Terminator gene ("Terminator" is a genetic modification that renders a plant sterile so that its seeds can't be used to produce another crop). In addressing health risks, the citizens recognized that there is large measure of uncertainty in our assessments; they were particularly concerned about issues of nutrition, allergies, antibiotic resistance, and fertility. Regulatory oversight should be established for seven years and then reviewed to see whether it should continue. A case-by-case evaluation should occur in order to sort out which information is relevant. Public control of the technology requires adequate resources, and that the regulators be truly independent from the interested parties. The citizens advocated that both the companies and the independent state authorities would make risk assessments and that the companies would have to pay fees for the acceptance of their products, the money going to support pubic research and education. There were some feelings of consternation that European Union (EU) regulations limit what many in Denmark would like to see as more stringent liability and sanctions. Therefore the panel called upon the EU to allow national rules in regard to this technology. The government should issue new rules on pesticides and genetically modified organisms, to truly insure that the levels of agrochemicals used are lower. And the growing of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should not hinder other modes of agricultural production (specifically organic) -- which suggests serious concern about Bt resistance and the use of antibiotic markers. ("Bt" is a natural, bacterially produced insecticide that is harmless to higher animals and humans.) While calling for GMO research to include a focus on the needs of the Third World, the panel specifically acknowledged that a larger production of food stuffs will not solve the problems of the Third World. A number of these recommendations were couched in awkward language to the effect that the lay panel "can't foreclose the possibility that" something beneficial might eventuate. There were strong calls for labeling and adequate public information. All genetically engineered food products should be labeled as such, and the panel recognized that there was a big difference between the demands of consumers and the European Union (EU) Directive. Similarly, the lay panel issued recommendations to stop technical monopolies (for example that the patents on lifeforms should only exist for 5 years), similarly at variance with EU law. As mentioned above, the lay panel noted that only very few benefits for consumers are currently in the pipeline, but it could not reject the possibility that such products would eventually be developed. Hence it did not call for a moratorium. There was considerable concern about protecting biodiversity, centers of diversity, and local ecosystems. Genetic modification must be balanced with conservation. The genetic modification of animals, especially, gives rise to ethical issues (for example, regarding reproduction). The lay panel insisted that ethics and consumer perspectives must be folded into decisionmaking about this technology. Currently, ethics are not included and are not given enough weight. This concern should be reflected on all levels of legal procedures, in a broad and continuous debate. Thus, the panel suggested the establishment of a genetics ethics committee which would be proactive and take the initiative to assure that this debate occurs (i.e., dialogue between companies and consumers), and that the process would be part of the development of broad Danish food policies. The citizens accepted the position that the industry should have the burden of proof to prove usefulness, and in this regard they favored a utilitarian argument. (But this was coupled with their desire to stimulate ethical discussions.) The experts then had a chance to comment on the report in order to eliminate ambiguities and assist the panel in reducing any possible misunderstandings. Some experts actually suggested ways in which the panel could make its points more strongly. [Note added by Phil Bereano: The possibility of actual distortion of a lay panel's recommendations has been raised in commentary on the Canadian Citizen's Conference held on genetically engineered food at the same time. Lay panelists there felt that the media distorted their language, which suggests that not enough attention was actually given to the drafting process. (On the Canadian conference, see http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~pubconf/index.html).] A response to the report was offered by parliamentarian Jorgenson, a Social Democrat who chairs the Danish Parliament's Committee on Food. He agreed that the broader social values, going beyond just objective risk measures, should be considered. And he understood that there were specific problems, such as the use of antibiotic markers, which needed attention. He agreed with the panel that genetically modified foods should be particularly regulated, and was very supportive of labeling. As he pointed out, choice is not limited just to the product one wishes to buy but rightfully includes the process by which products are produced. Unlike the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he understood that the role of being a consumer is not necessarily devoid of ethical content (as the phenomenon of consumer boycotts so obviously reminds us.) Parliamentarian Jorgenson was also very interested in the category of animal feed, wondering whether meat could be sold as organic (free of genetic modification) if the feed had been modified. He also agreed that research should be de-linked from the companies and be independent. He quickly disposed of claims that genetic engineering would automatically be beneficial to the Third World by noting that as long as countries of the North dumped their excesses, it is not clear that stimulating production will benefit the countries of the South.... [Editor's note: Here Phil Bereano's full report summarizes a diverse and interesting range of audience reaction to the Danish lay panel report, and offers Bereano's concluding reflections. Phil's complete, 10-page report is available on the Loka Institute Web site at http://www.loka.org/pages/DanishGeneFood.html.]
(3) LOKA INSTITUTE INTERNSHIPS: The Loka Institute has openings for volunteers, graduate and undergraduate student interns, and work-study students for the fall of 1999 and beyond. The activities in which interns are involved vary from research assistance and writing to assisting in project development and management, fundraising, managing our Internet lists, Web page updates, helping with clerical and other office work, etc. If you are interested in working with us to promote a democratic politics of science and technology, please send a hard copy resume along with a succinct letter explaining your interest, and stating the dates you would like to be at Loka, to: Volunteer & Internship Coordinator, The Loka Institute, P.O. Box 355, Amherst, MA 01004, USA. You may also fax these materials to us at +1-(413)-559-5811.
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