By Julia Day, STEPS Centre member
The STEPS Centre is launching a new pilot project, Beyond Biosafety, aimed at opening up debates about biosafety. The project focusses on Kenya and the Philippines, as two countries that have been seen, at different times, as regional ‘test cases’ for biotechnology and biosafety regulatory development.
Debates about transgenic crops
have become highly polarised across the globe. In the process, civil society organisations and movements have emerged as key actors, alongside governmental and ‘expert’ science institutions, in the contested field of agricultural biotechnology.
In developing countries, biosafety and its regulation has become the lightening rod for these debates. This is in the context of international efforts towards global harmonisation of national biosafety systems through the transfer of regulatory frameworks developed in and for OECD countries.
This focus on biosafety has tended to narrow national biotechnology debates to ‘downstream’ (rather than more strategic ‘upstream’) actors and decisions; and to the control and management of risks, rather than broader ethical concerns about investment in and deployment of technologies.
These dynamics at the national level reflect global efforts to harmonise national frameworks around an OECD
‘ideal’, seen as the benchmark for programmes of capacity building. But is a uniform pattern of closure based on frameworks developed in such different circumstances a realistic or even desirable goal? Particularly given the reality of diverse systems, perspectives and capacities across developing countries – and a far from uniform interpretation even among OECD countries
What would it take to ‘open up’ debates about and beyond biosafety? This pilot project will focus, initially, on Kenya
and the Philippines
, as two countries that have been seen, at different times, as regional ‘test cases’ for biotechnology and biosafety regulatory development. The aim will be to connect civil society actors in the two countries for an exchange of ideas and lessons about how, when and where opportunities exist (or might be created) to open up these debates in new ways.
The project convenor is Sally Brooks, who will be working with Hannington Odame, executive director of Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship, Nairobi, Kenya (CABE) as well as STEPS member Erik Millstone and Paddy Van Zwanenberg.