Putting forward a recommendation for countries to include socio-economic considerations in a biosafety regulatory decision-making process is quite difficult for me or for any social or economic impact assessment practitioner, especially when the decision to release a technology may be predicated unto the assessment conducted by the practitioner. Socio-economic considerations related to LMOs are an extremely complex issue and thus the evaluation and decision making processes are also complex. It is my belief that there is no clear winning strategy in terms of selecting an option for including and/or implementing socio-economic considerations (or not) in decision making. This statement can vary from country to country.
From my standpoint as an international civil servant, working in an international organization supporting developing and emerging countries, I will certainly abide by countries’ policy decisions and will contribute to the development and implementation of food system policies and of course socio-economic assessments, if that is their decision. Hopefully it will be a decision done considering full information about all issues and consequences. Certainly, as my good friend and mentor on the Protocol and regulatory issues, Abisai Mafa from Zimbabwe, has indicated in several forums: “we should not shy away from up-taking these tough challenges head-on”.
I do love the challenges involved with implementing socio-economic assessments of new technologies such as LMOs, but at the same time, I am quite aware of the multiple limitations of such assessments, many of which we are seeking addressing methodologically. In fact, I wish I had much more time available and as much resources as some academic institutions to spend examining a specific case study in more detail. This contrasts with what is more or less currently the reality in my institute, which is 3 years or so for a larger projects, but can be as short as 6 months for a desktop study.
From another standpoint, I (and my colleagues at IFPRI/PBS) have been in a unique position in many ways, as our work is firmly located at the nexus were biosafety and biotechnology policy development and implementation occurs in developing countries. We at IFPRI and the Program for Biosafety Systems have been working with lawmakers, regulators, assessors, decision makers, competent authorities, scientists, and many other stakeholders, on hands-on capacity building/strengthening issues on the ground since 2003. So we are in unique position to contribute to the debate as we understand the biosafety, the socio-economic assessments, and the issues related to decision making.
So, what is my opinion on the matter? Stay tuned next Thursday for the answer!!!