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University of Guelph Centre for Safe Food, Department of Plant Agriculture. Food Under Fire: Risk in the Public Sphere By Shane Morris. Manifestation of attitudes! - Humour. OUTLINE. Risk in Food Risk Theory Biopolitics and social actors

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University of Guelph

Centre for Safe Food, Department of Plant Agriculture.

Food Under Fire: Risk in the Public Sphere


Shane Morris



  • Risk in Food
  • Risk Theory
  • Biopolitics and social actors
  • Examples of Biopolitics: 1.Rats and Risks 2.Biopolitical Resistance to Resistance Genes
  • Consumers and Risk - Model Farm Project
  • Organic report
  • Take home

Risk Types in Food

  • Health Risks
  • Environmental Risks
  • Social and Economic Risks
  • Ethical and Moral Risks

Risk Theory

  • Risk Components:
  • What is Risk Analysis ?Risk Assessment: characterizing risk mathematically
  • Risk Management? - deciding what to do about the risk
  • Risk Communication ? - explaining the risk - the method of understanding scientific and technological risk and how it is communicated within a socio-political structure - Interactive process of information and opinion exchange among individuals, groups and institutions

Identifying Issues

Assessing Risk & Benefit

Evaluating Results


Identifying and

Analyzing Options


the Strategy

Selecting a Strategy

Risk Communication Model


Risk Communication Points

Good risk communication :

to facilitate an informed understanding of the risks andbenefits (William Leiss, Pres. Royal Society of Canada, web site) SAFETY

Rules of Risk Issue Management (Leiss):

1. Understand Risk Issue Management

2. Risk Issue Forecasting

“intensity of backlash surprised” KW-Record Feb. 22, 2001

3. Become fully engaged

4. Be proactive

5. Stay in for the long haul


Public Sphere

a domain of our social life in which such a thing as public opinion can be formed.

Habermas: in the public sphere discourse becomes democratic through the "non-coercively unifying, consensus building force of a discourse in which participants overcome their at first subjectively biased views in favor of a rationally motivated agreement"


GM Sugar beet trials, 1999

GM Food In Ireland - To Date only Experimental Field Trials


Social Actors in Irish media

  • Fundamentalist Critique Coalition
  • neo-modernist movement/ reflexive modernization (Beck)
  • New Left Coalition
  • fusion of the socialist frame of international equity with that of environmentalist protection
  • Counter Science Expertise Coalition
  • “bad science” - scientists
  • Biotechnology Solution Coalition
  • Those support of technology: (a) Commercial
  • (b) Positive


as the politicization of modern biotechnology issues within the political stream that can influence public policy at local, national and international levels. The concept of the political stream is derived from John Kingdon's book called Agenda, Alternatives and Public Policies (1984).

(2000, Trends in Biotech)

Local: School boards in the UK banning GM food in dinners

National: Field trials

International: EU member states or Biosafety Protocol


Rats and Risks


This formulation of naturally occurring pesticides is perfect for organic gardeners

The Lancet , Jan. 2001


Antibiotic Resistance Genes

Belgium: (December, 1999)

"The fact that the feed or food has a transgenic origin, implicating or not the insertion of transcriptionally-functional antibiotic resistance gene should not mathematically modify significantly the global probability of gene transfer from natural bacteria."

French: (April 2000)

The resistance gene (nptII) meets these criteria. Therefore, it can be used in plant transgenesis."

EU: (April 2000)“No scientific evidence that all GMO of this type (Ab-resis.) present adverse effects to human health or the environment.” BUT

“I am fully aware of the political importance...of proposed amendments”

Canada: (Feb. 2001) Royal Society recommended a ban on Ab-resis.



Bt vs. Conventional Sweet Corn

  • Bt Sweet Corn
    • No insecticides
    • No fungicide
    • Herbicide and fertilizer applications were the same for both Bt and Conventional in all plantings
  • Conventional
    • Planting 1:

3 Carbofuran applications

    • Planting 2:

2 Carbofuran and 1 pyrethroid

    • Planting 3:

1 carbofuran and 2 pyrethroid



Bt vs Conventional Potatoes

  • Bt Potatoes
    • No insecticides
    • 20% less fertilizer
    • 2 fungicide applications
  • Conventional
    • 2 applications of:Admire OR Actara


    • 3 Bt applications.
    • 2 fungicide
    • 1 cymbush

Bt and Regular Sweet Corn Sales

  • Bt Sweet Corn: 680 dozen
  • Regular Sweet corn: 452 dozen
    • Recorded until the regular was no longer saleable
    • Ratio of Almost 3:2
  • Many people bought some of each
  • The Bt sweet corn had a longer shelf life

Organic Risks and Benefits in Ireland

  • Benefits:
  • positive public perceptions
  • Market premiums
  • direct selling potential
  • extra employment
  • some organic systems fit well with part-time farming
  • Risks:
  • labour shortages
  • depends on economic buoyancy
  • lack of year round supply - Irish weather!!
  • price premiums may fall because:supply incease or retailer competition
  • retailer lack of commitment

East Cork Regional Office (EU Leader Project)


Biopolitics, Risk Communication and the Public Sphere

All (‘bio-’) politics is local!

All politics is local!


Take Home

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of society but the people themselves, and if we think them not enlightened to exercise their own control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion”

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820


Thank You

Any Questions?…...