I believe most regulators with actual experience assessing applications for experimental containment, confinement, and general release; will agree with my following statements.
If we are talking about pure scientific and academic processes, I wholeheartedly agree to the need to be as exhaustive as possible in terms of understanding biophysical and technology deployment systems and models. Well, even in those circles, one has to pick specific research questions in order to implement applied research where I mostly gravitate.
Yet, in discussions in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and for national measures, this is actually the nexus where science, biodiversity, LMOs and regulations/policies converge. Because of this convergence, we simply cannot research everything and we cannot wait for science to develop an explanation of everything. Once again, the latter obviously is impossible to achieve, as science will always evolve and new questions and issues will arise as nature evolves itself.
The task at hand is to determine what knowledge is sufficient to make a determination about imports, experimentation or deliberate release of LMOs. Countries will have to make such pragmatic choices in order to ensure a functional system. The answer is not necessarily “not to do it” as this is an impractical answer for many countries that already have active trade flows and can have many consequences in terms of food aid flows.
I believe that the mandate for all of these activities mandated by the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is to eventually develop a process that will help those countries who have decide inclusion of socioeconomics in their decision making. This implies identification of (research) questions, hypotheses, assessment procedures, and to develop decision making standards that will enable a functional system. By the way, I define a biosafety system as functional, as one that is robust, and who can yield all possible decision outcomes (yes, no, need more information…and everything in between).
For most regulators that I know of, they pursue practical approaches to risk assessment that can yield an adequate level of protection to society. As any other regulatory approach, there is always the possibility that risk assessments can be wrong. That is why there are risk mitigation and management procedures in place to reduce such impact as much as possible.
In the specific case of socio-economics, I wish that I would have enough time, budget and patience to monitor communities for multiple years. It would be nice to survey and gather quantitative and qualitative data on producers and consumers (ideally quasi-panels) for at least three years to gather information on the production environment dynamics. The question of whether the biosafety decision making process will be improved by doing such long term monitoring is still in the air,as there is no definitive answer to that questions.
In reality, I would be lucky if I can get funding for a project that can finance one, maybe two, production cycles. This limitation is even more binding for developing countries’ colleagues working with much more resource limitations. Once again, the response is not that if one does not have the resources to conduct a socioeconomics study then one should not approve, rather finding innovative ways to respond to a policy/regulatory requirement.