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Innovations in Biotechnology: Public Perceptions & Cultural Attitudes. Drew L. Kershen Earl Sneed Centennial Prof. Univ. of Oklahoma Law School Copyright 2004, Drew L. Kershen, all rights reserved. Introduction.

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innovations in biotechnology public perceptions cultural attitudes

Innovations in Biotechnology:Public Perceptions & Cultural Attitudes

Drew L. Kershen

Earl Sneed Centennial Prof. Univ. of Oklahoma Law School

Copyright 2004, Drew L. Kershen, all rights reserved

  • Agricultural Biotechnology – the debate is not about facts, information, policy compromises
  • Contending paradigms about humankind, nature, food, science, trade, intellectual property
  • Galileo/Ptolemy; Darwin/Lysenko; Borlaug/Ho
  • Agricultural Biotechnology – either accepted and used or stigmatized and shunned
historical examples
China – Treasure Fleets 1405-1433

Technological superiority

Voyages of exploration

Admiral Zheng He vs Confucians – power struggle

Stability, purity, precaution – Confucian virtues

Within 8 decades, China gave up its technological superiority to Portugal

1789 United States Constitution – Progress of Science and Useful Arts

1793 Patent Office

Stable legal protection for inventions & discoveries

Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980); J.E.M. Ag Supply, Inc. v. Pioneer Hi-Bred Int’l, Inc. (2001)

Development as Freedom

Historical Examples
the nature of agricultural biotechnology

Different in kind

New laws, regulations and agencies – the technology itself

Technology assessment – determine the future

European Political leadership – tepid or hostile

United States

No fundamental difference – No new regulatory issues

Same laws, agencies – the products of the technology

No a priori determination – the future decides

Political leadership generally supportive – calming

The Nature of Agricultural Biotechnology
precautionary principle or precautionary approach
Europe, precautionary principle

Hypothetical or imagined risks

Risks govern, benefits ignored

Burden to proof – prove no risks, no harm

Risk – zero tolerance – pervasive distrust

Food purity – pollution, contamination, segregation – categorical imperative, not risk analysis

US, precautionary approach

Identifiable harms; scientific evaluation

Burden to prove safe – non-discrimination

Benefit/Risk Balance – pervasive trust

Food safety – safe, nutritious foods – culinary arts, not the essence of the food, makes the meal

Precautionary Principle or Precautionary Approach
food labels

Process-based mandatory labelling

Consumer confidence

Consumer choice

Regulation, not markets


Food scares – food ingredient avoidance

Additional burdens and costs – rent-seeking behaviour

United States

Material facts – mandatory

Freedom not to speak

Voluntary labels – not false or misleading

Niche Markets

Differentiate products

Niche consumers pay for the additional information

Consumer choice

GMO free

Organic production

Food Labels
atlantic separation international fora
Atlantic Separation International Fora
  • International Fora
    • Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
    • Codex Alimentarius
    • FAO/WHO
  • Public policy choices
    • Prohibition – The European reality
    • Precaution – The European paradigm
    • Permissive – The Developing World ?
    • Promotional – The United States paradigm
going forward risks for europe
EU Domestic Risk

Bleak Future in a hostile climate

Industry -- Loss of competitiveness – Next wave of technology

Loss of scientific and entrepreneurial expertise

US at no risk

The paradigm does not govern American production

The NAFTA markets – dual chains of commodity trade

EU International Risk

Development as Freedom – food security, demographics, technology transfer

China & India

Technological capacity

Large domestic markets

Domestic Public policy

Europe at risk to China & India

Going ForwardRisks for Europe
the paradigm gambit
The Paradigm Gambit
  • Scientific Ignorance, Ideological Motives, Moral Risk
  • Historical Choice
    • China – 1433
    • Future Risk – the outcome in several decades
    • Science, technology, trade flows equally from East to West as West to East
  • L. Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433 (Oxford Univ. Press, 1994)
  • A. Sen, Development as Freedom (Oxford Univ. Press, 1999)
  • EC, Towards a Strategic Vision of Life Science and Biotechnology: A Consultation Document, COM (2001) 454 Final (04.09.2001)
  • VIB, Safety of Genetically Engineered Crops (June 5, 2000) < >.
  • Nat’l Econ. Res. Assoc., Economic Appraisal of Options for Extension of Legislation on GM Labeling (London, May 2001) < >
  • R. Paarlberg, The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries (John Hopkins Univ. Press, 2001)
  • UNDP Report 2001, Making New Technologies Work for Human Development (Oxford. Univ. Press, 2001)
  • Asian Development Bank, Agricultural Biotechnology, Poverty Reduction, and Food Security (May 2001)
  • D. Kershen (1999) Biotechnology: An essay on the academy, cultural attitudes and public policy, AgBioForum 2(2), 137-146 (Spring 1999)
  • D. Kershen (2000) The Concept of Natural: Implications for Biotechnology Regulation, AgBioForum 3(1), 321-326 (Winter 2000)