I believe that the source of my -and perhaps others- confusion over the issue of socioeconomics and GMO decision making, is that the discussions in many forums keeps moving back and forth between three distinct issues: 1) those biodiversity impacts arising from the adoption of LMOs, 2) all the long lists of broader socioeconomic impacts available out there that may be derived from the biodiversity impacts arising from the adoption of LMOs, and 3) all the broader socioeconomic impacts induced by the adoption of LMOs.
In my mind these are three distinct aspects in the discussion but there is a fine line dividing them in practice. I believe that Article 26 of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety seems to cover issues 1) and 2), while we countries decide on item 3) in their domestic measures.
Unfortunately for issues 2) and 3) above, one does have to go beyond the biodiversity/environmental impacts and discuss the multiple issues related to broad socioeconomic impacts even if countries decide only to qualitatively indicate that these impacts may occur. One still has to at least make an assessment of which issues and their likelihood of occurrence and potential benefit/harm. Furthermore, the common denominator here, the regulators and/or decision makers in most countries are likely to deal with the three issues listed above.
Asking regulators/decision makers to consider these three issues separately, I believe is a bit difficult for them and frankly for everybody who will have to deal with all three issues. Thus the focus of postings in this blog in trying to address issues of evidence, proof, lines of causality, decision making processes and sufficiency.
I apologize if I have not made this point as clear as it needs to be in this blog or everywhere. I have not and will not support releasing a technology without a regulatory assessment and formal decision making by a competent authority. I am thinking especially of those socioeconomic impacts that go beyond specific technical issues which by nature are quite complex and interrelated.
In spite of the many sophisticated models we may have in economics or sociology, there is no way yet to predict or anticipate broad socioeconomic impacts to the level of specificity that models in other disciplines can perform at this point. Specific issues can usually be identified only in ex post studies. Socioeconomic models are good at projecting specific outcomes such as net profit or impacts on financial risk and perhaps broad trends or issues. Furthermore these models are good for projecting broad impacts on labor use or disaggregated impacts by production size. At IFPRI we have used extensively economic model to project impacts on childhood and pregnant women malnutrition levels or impacts on poverty distribution. So these models are getting better.
An aside. Obviously, there are excellent ex ante assessments (projections) and a quite bad ex post measurement (surveys, field entomological experiments). This is a matter of judging the quality of the research. However, if the issues is measuring the multiple broad socioeconomic impacts derived from the adoption of an LMO nothing beats a well conducted ex post study as we are measuring things as they unfold. As I mentioned before, limitations in answering questions come from resource limitations and there is no guarantee that we will be able to answer all questions. The truth is out there….
We need to re-focus our discussion in providing a clear and practical set of guidelines that will help countries parties the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety make decisions about Article 26 and their own national measures. I certainly will have to address all of these in my work. To accomplish this, I presume that we will need to re-focus on the development of questions, definition of concepts, procedures and processes, and implementation issues.