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Democratising biotechnology? Deliberation, participation and social regulation in a neo-liberal world



There is now significant policy and academic interest in the governance of science and technology for sustainable development. In recent years this has come to include a growing emphasis on issues of public understanding of science and innovative processes of deliberative and inclusive policy-making around controversial technologies such as nuclear power and agricultural biotechnology. Concern with such issues coincides with rising levels of interest in deliberative democracy and its relationship to the structures and processes of global governance. This article connects these two areas through a critical examination of ‘global’ deliberations about agricultural biotechnology and its risks and benefits. It draws on an extensive survey concerned with the diverse ways in which a range of governments are interpreting and implementing their commitments under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety regarding public participation and consultation in order to assess the potential to create forms of deliberation through these means. The article explores both the limitations of public deliberation within global governance institutions as well as of projects whose aim is to impose participation from above through international law by advocating model approaches and policy ‘tool kits’ that are insensitive to vast differences between countries in terms of capacity, resources and political culture.
Democratising biotechnology? Deliberation,
participation and social regulation in a
neo-liberal world
Abstract. There is now significant policy and academic interest in the governance of science
and technology for sustainable development. In recent years this has come to include a
growing emphasis on issues of public understanding of science and innovative processes of
deliberative and inclusive policy-making around controversial technologies such as nuclear
power and agricultural biotechnology. Concern with such issues coincides with rising levels
of interest in deliberative democracy and its relationship to the structures and processes of
global governance. This article connects these two areas through a critical examination of
‘global’ deliberations about agricultural biotechnology and its risks and benefits. It draws on
an extensive survey concerned with the diverse ways in which a range of governments are
interpreting and implementing their commitments under the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety regarding public participation and consultation in order to assess the potential to
create forms of deliberation through these means. The article explores both the limitations
of public deliberation within global governance institutions as well as of projects whose aim
is to impose participation from above through international law by advocating model
approaches and policy ‘tool kits’ that are insensitive to vast dierences between countries in
terms of capacity, resources and political culture.
There is now significant policy and academic interest in the governance of science
and technology for sustainable development.
In recent years this has come to
include a growing emphasis on issues of public understanding of science and
innovative processes of deliberative and inclusive policy-making around contro-
versial technologies such as nuclear power and agricultural biotechnology.
Concern with such issues coincides with rising levels of interest in deliberative
* I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers of this paper, the editors James Brassett and William
Smith, Kimberly Hutchings and other participants in the ISA panel on this theme in San Francisco.
Melissa Leach, Ian Scoones and Brian Wynne (eds), Science and Citizens (London: Zed press, 2005);
James Keeley (ed.), Democratising Biotechnology, IDS Briefings (Brighton: Institute of Development
Studies 2003); Hebert Gottweis, Governing Molecules: The discursive politics of genetic engineering in
Europe and the US (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1995).
Simon Joss (ed.), ‘Public participation in science and technology’, special issue, Science and Public
Policy, 26:5 (1999); Walter Baber and Robert, V. Bartlett, Deliberative Environmental Politics:
Democracy and Ecological Rationality (Cambridge MA: MIT press, 2005); Minu Hemmati,
Multi-stakeholder processes for governance and accountability (London: Earthscan, 2002).
Review of International Studies (2010), 36, 471–491 Copyright British International Studies Association
democracy and its relationship to the structures and processes of global govern-
This article connects these two areas of interest through a critical
examination of ‘global’ deliberations about agricultural biotechnology and its risks
and benefits.
It seeks to address a key deficit noted in the literature whereby ‘Democratic
theorists have often seemed unconcerned about the practical applications of
deliberative democracy and have restricted their concerns to normative and
procedural values, leaving the practical realm out of their focus of inquiry’.
To do
so, it draws on an extensive survey conducted for the UK Department for
International Development (DfID) concerned with the diverse ways in which
a range of governments
are interpreting and implementing their commitments
under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety regarding public participation and
consultation. It argues that the limited forms of meaningful participation and
deliberation observed reflect a neo-liberal model of public participation in which
citizens are encouraged to engage in policy in their role as consumers of products
rather than as social agents with a right and a capacity to contribute towards
new forms of social regulation of technology development and diusion. Whilst
evidence is found of the creation of invited spaces of participation, deeper
forms of public deliberation are much rarer and are largely absent altogether
within and beyond the global institutions charged with handling agricultural
Through this case, the article explores both the limitations of public delibera-
tion within global governance institutions as well as projects which aim to impose
participation from above through international law by advocating model
approaches and policy ‘tool kits’ that are insensitive to vast dierences between
countries in terms of capacity, resources and political culture. The article highlights
the issues of power at play in these processes, despite attempts to de-politicise
them, and sheds light on the strategies employed by policy elites to protect
established accumulation strategies vis-à-vis biotechnology in the face of potential
public challenges to claims made on behalf of the technology regarding an array
of social and environmental benefits. Though it focuses on GM (genetically-
modified) food, the issues it raises resonate with the challenges faced by
governments and publics in relation to deliberating social choices around other
pertinent global issues such as climate change
equally characterised by high levels
of uncertainty, long term time frames and high economic stakes and addressed
across multiple governance scales.
James Bohman, Public Deliberation: Pluralism, Complexity, Democracy (Cambridge MA: MIT Press,
1996); James Bohman and William Rehg (eds), Deliberative Democracy: Essays on Reason and
Politics (Cambridge: MIT press, 1997); John Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy and Beyond: Liberals,
Critics, Contestations (Oxford: OUP, 2000); John Dryzek, Deliberative Global Politics: Discourse and
Democracy in a Divided World (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2006).
Manjusha Gupta and Robert V. Bartlett, ‘Necessary preconditions for deliberative environmental
democracy? Challenging the modernity bias of current theory’, Global Environmental Politics, 7:3
(2007), pp. 94–107, p. 94.
Through interviews, surveys and data collection the experience of 16 countries was analysed; Brazil,
Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, New
Zealand, Norway, UK, US, Zimbabwe.
Roger Few, Kate Brown and Emma Tomkins, ‘Public participation and climate change adaptation:
Avoiding the illusion of inclusion’, Climate Policy, 7 (2007), pp. 46–59.
472 Peter Newell
Deliberating globally
What do we mean when we talk about deliberation in global governance? Who
deliberates, about what and how? It is clear that if we employ Smith and Brassett’s
definition of deliberative democracy as ‘a system of government in which free and
equal citizens engage in a collective process of political debate’,
many global
policy engagements would not qualify because of the absence of overarching
authority structures. Even where there is evidence of participation (as opposed to
deliberation) in global policy processes, it is rarely allowed to directly or formally
shape law and policy in the relatively closed world of inter-state bargaining. Well
organised and resourced NGOs and business groups constitute an eective
presence in global negotiations, but very few citizens participate directly in
decision-making within global bodies, even if some international institutions
provide citizens with rights to participation and consultation through making one
ostatements in their plenary sessions, or as observers of inter-state deliberations.
Instead, in so far as publics are represented in global policy processes, this occurs
through forms of indirect representation through civil society organisations and
nation-states. This narrows significantly the field of play. It implies, as we will see
below, uneven national processes of deliberation with unclear and inconsistent
means for ‘feeding’ national public debates and preferences into global policy
arenas. Many international institutions are keen to emphasise the idea that states
bear the duties of consultation with publics, not global bodies. The WTO’s
guidelines on relations with civil society, for example, state:
As a result of extensive discussions, there is currently a broadly held view that it would not
be possible for NGOs to be directly involved in the work of the WTO or its meetings.
Closer consultation and cooperation with NGOs can also be met constructively through
appropriate processes at the national level where lies primary responsibility for taking into
account the dierent elements of public interest which are brought to bear on trade
Reliance upon civil society actors as intermediaries for the expression of public
interests or the facilitators of deliberation is also restrictive, however. In global
terms, a tiny percentage of global civil society participates directly in the forms of
global politics that play out in international arenas for reasons of resources,
priorities or choices not to engage. For these reasons, more critical and
southern-based groups are often screened out of global debates.
This is a far cry
from the ideal scenario in which ‘sucient levels of political equality, in the form
of equal ‘capacities’ for influence and organisation, needs to be achieved to secure
the legitimacy of deliberative global institutions’.
This is not a limitation specific
to global institutions and decision-making of course. Direct participation by
citizens is rare at national level and intermediaries play equally important but
William Smith and James Brassett, ‘Deliberation and Global Governance: Liberal, Cosmopolitan
and Critical Perspectives’, Ethics & International Aairs, 22:1 (2008), pp. 69–92, p. 72.
WTO, Guidelines for Arrangements on Relations with NGOs, Document WT/L/162, 18. July, (Geneva:
WTO, 1996).
Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, The Earth Brokers: Power, Politics and World Development
(London: Routledge, 1994); Rorden Wilkinson, ‘The contours of courtship: The WTO and civil
society’, in Rorden Wilkinson and Steven Hughes (eds), Global Governance: Critical Perspectives
(London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 193–212.
James Bohman, ‘Cosmopolitan Republicanism’, The Monist, 84:1 (2001), pp. 3–22, p. 17.
Democratising biotechnology? 473
problematic roles as brokers of social demands in national public arenas.
Citizenship and its ties to the nation state, does, however, confer on those wanting
to be represented in processes of public consultation and deliberation the right to
participate, as part of a social contract, the like of which does not exist globally
to bind global institutions to dispersed citizens of the world.
The discussion about the theory and practice of deliberation in global politics
relates to broader debates about the democratic deficits that characterise many
global governance institutions and the weakness of systems of accountability that
link global bodies to citizens.
Hence whilst global institutions increasingly make
policy in areas of political life which touch us in direct and profound ways through
governing access to water, education or food, the mechanisms by which citizens
can shape such policies are often weak or non-existent. Cosmopolitan accounts of
deliberation invoke it specifically as a means to ‘democratise’ global governance
institutions such that the definition of agents of deliberation includes citizens and
civil society alongside states as actors forging trans-national ties and providing
checks on the exercise of power aimed at enhancing the ‘reason responsiveness’ of
global governance institutions.
Yet at the international level the mechanisms
we have for claiming by ‘accountability seekers’ and the means for realising
accountability by ‘accountability providers’ are highly under-developed.
checks and balances that characterise many systems of national political govern-
ance are poorly embedded or non-existent in transnational arenas of governance
where ‘executive multilateralism’ prevails.
This may be considered to be as true
of the politics of the environment as it is for other global issue areas. Scholte
suggests ‘a notional accountability chain does connect voters via national
parliaments and national governments to global governance organizations, but the
links in practice have been very weak’.
For example, ‘national parliaments have
exercised only occasional and mild if any oversight over most supra-state
regulatory bodies’.
There is much evidence that even around agreements with far
reaching social and environmental implications such as the TRIPs (Trade-Related
Intellectual Property Rights) agreement of the WTO, parliaments have been kept
out of decision-making and often remain unaware of the extent of the commit-
ments their government has signed up to.
Instead, unelected technocrats represent
David Held and Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (ed.), Global Governance and Public Accountability
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).
David Held, ‘Democratic Accountability and Political Eectiveness from a Cosmopolitan Perspec-
tive’, in David Held and Mathias Koenig-Archibugi (eds), Global Governance and Public Account-
ability (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 240–68.
Anne-Marie Goetz and Rob Jenkins, Reinventing Accountability: Making Democracy Work for
Human Development (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004).
Michael Zürn, ‘Global Governance and Legitimacy Problems’, in Held and Koenig-Archibugi,
Global Governance and Public Accountability, pp. 136–64.
Jan Aart Scholte, ‘Civil Society and Democratically Accountable Global Governance’, in Held and
Koenig-Archibugi, Global Governance and Public Accountability, pp. 87–110, p. 87.
Ibid., p. 87.
This was an issue I discussed with activists and parliamentarians in Peru in December 2004 in
relation to the implications of TRIPs to access to aordable drugs in the country. A similar
experience of exclusion of parliaments was observed in relation to Kenya’s acceptance of the TRIPs
agreement, despite implications for farmers’ rights to seed and existing plant variety protection
legislation. Hannington Odame, Patricia Kameri-Mbote and David Wafula, ‘Globalisation and the
international governance of modern biotechnology: implications for food security in Kenya’, IDS
Working Paper, 199, Biotechnology Policy Series 20 (Brighton, UK: IDS, 2003).
474 Peter Newell
their governments at the international level, without a direct connection to citizens
whose interests they are, in theory, advancing.
The inequities in capacity and participation which mean that most governments
in the majority world are not able to even be present, let alone adequately
represent the interests of their publics in arenas in which demands for legal and
scientific expertise are high, also apply to civil society. Moreover, merely
constructing more ‘spaces’ for civil society groups within international institutions
does not address the inequalities within civil society that will continue to mean
participation (and by implication, capacity for deliberation) is unevenly distributed
by region, issue, as well as other key social cleavages such as gender, race and
Marceau and Pedersen’s argument that merely constructing more institu-
tional spaces means, some groups ‘get two bites at the apple’:
a high degree of
access and presence at the national level and then a second opportunity to pressure
other governments at the international level, is relevant here. Many developing
countries rightly fear that the inclusion of well-resourced groups able to represent
themselves at both levels merely amplifies the voice of already powerful states since
that is where the wealthiest and most internationalised groups are based.
Hence we encounter the twin reality of advanced industrialised liberal demo-
cratic states with ample capacity to adequately represent the voices of their citizens
in global fora, but who seldom do so, and at the same time a much broader pool
of poorer governments without capacity to adequately represent either themselves
or their publics in global fora; an absence that is also not compensated for by
extensive civil society participation. Therefore, assumptions both about state
capacity and willingness to serve as eective vehicles for the transmission and
mediation of citizen preferences and the outcomes of their deliberations within
global fora, or about open and accessible spaces existing within global bodies, need
to be reassessed.
Indeed, it is often the case that those that stand to gain from the outcomes of
inter-state negotiations have the power and resources to shape them and often
prefer to try to influence debate in fora removed from the more quotidian and
extensive engagement of national civil societies and state parliaments, in regional
or global venues where their opponents are unable to represent themselves and
voice their concerns. This is often the case with business groups able to shape
global outcomes more eectively without the counter-veiling force of civil society
groups critical of their position and ready to expose governments’ complicity in
agreements that serve the public poorly. Powerful actors can ‘forum-shop’ and
venue-shift, moving an issue to an institution where, for reasons of mandate or
access, they are best able to secure a favourable outcome. Regarding Intellectual
Property Rights, for example, many multinational companies have gone back and
forth from the World Intellectual Property Organisation to the WTO, from an
institution which operates according to a broader public-interest mandate to one
Peter Newell, ‘Race, class and the global politics of environmental inequality’, Global Environmental
Politics, 5:3 (2005), pp. 70–94.
Gabrielle Marceau and Peter Pedersen, ‘Is the WTO open and transparent? A discussion of the
relationship of the WTO with non governmental organizations and civil society’s claims for more
transparency and participation’, Journal of World Trade, 33:1 (1999), pp. 5–49.
Peter Newell and Diana Tussie, (eds), ‘Civil society participation in trade policy in Latin America:
Lessons and Reflections’, IDS Working Paper, 267 (Brighton: IDS, 2006).
Democratising biotechnology? 475
which has greater powers to enforce claims against states infringing firms’ property
rights and, as developing countries and activist have gained leverage in those
institutions, to bilateral trade and investment agreements where those groups have
a less eective presence.
Indeed, one of the challenges for civil society groups is
to ensure that issues which profoundly aect global publics are addressed in arenas
where opportunities for participation and traditions of deliberation are stronger.
For example, some environmentalists seek to keep discussion of environmental
issues within UN-led fora and out of the WTO where access and space for dialogue
around their concerns has traditionally been very restricted.
Despite the limitations associated with deliberation within and about global
institutions, it remains the case that it is within environmental arenas that perhaps
most emphasis has been placed on the importance of deliberation and public
consultation. Principle ten of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
declares for example:
Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at
the relevant level. At the national level each individual shall have appropriate access to
information concerning the environment [. . .] and the opportunity to participate in
decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and
participation by making information widely available. Eective access to judicial and
administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.
Similarly, article 1 of the Aarhus Convention of 1998 on Access to Information,
Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental
Matters states that ‘each party shall guarantee the rights of access to information,
public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental
matters in accordance with the provisions of this Convention’. The wording of the
Cartagena Protocol itself states in Article 23:
Parties (to the Protocol) shall Promote and facilitate public awareness, education and
participation concerning the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms in
relation to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into
account risks to human health. In so doing Parties shall cooperate, as appropriate, with
other states and international bodies’.
These agreements provide states with obligations to engage their publics in
priority-setting and decision-making about their national environmental policies.
Arguments in favour of public participation in policy debates often stress that
participation leads to more appropriate, more broadly ‘owned’, and hence more
eective policy. The emphasis on participation and consultation is premised on the
idea that the involvement of all stakeholders is critical to the eectiveness of any
regulatory framework. It is also acknowledged that without higher levels of public
consent or consensus than exist at present, decisions to allow the commercial
growing of GM crops might provide a precarious basis for proceeding with GM
crop development. At a more fundamental level, it is also often argued that people
have a right to be informed about and consulted about decisions that have a direct
impact upon their lives.
Susan Sell, ‘The global IP upward ratchet, anti-counterfeiting and piracy enforcement eorts: The
State of Play, 9 June 2008, {}; David Levy and
Peter Newell (eds), The Business of Global Environmental Governance (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005).
476 Peter Newell
Though most legal instruments neither proscribe nor invoke the language of
deliberation, as Meadowcroft argues, ‘a vigorous extension of deliberative demo-
cratic practice within the environmental and natural resources policy domain can
enhance significantly society’s capacity to manage environment-related problems in
the coming decades.’
For theorists of deliberation it is also the case that ‘the
exchange of public reasons in the give and take of dialogue makes speakers
answerable and accountable to one another’.
What international mechanisms
provide, however, is essentially support and encouragement for national level
participation, which may or may not take the form of deliberation. For this reason
its up take by states is uneven and the form it takes highly diverse, reflective of
vastly dierent political cultures, civil society forms and levels of state capacity as
we will see below.
Deliberating ecology and technology
With regard to environmental problems that are classically characterised by the
need to act now to avoid serious negative consequences for future generations,
questions of who speaks for whom and on what basis in deliberations are key.
Who speaks for the non-human world and the unborn? How can the interests of
those without the capacity to speak on their own behalf be known? The issues of
representation and legitimacy that arise are overwhelming. Added to this is the
complexity and uncertainty that often characterise environmental problems which
require high levels of scientific, technical and legal expertise to navigate eectively.
Here we enter the terrain of public understanding of science. Traditionally it has
been assumed that a precondition of eective public engagement in environmental
policy processes was high levels of public understanding of the nature of scientific
risk associated with problems such as climate change and with the risks and
benefits associated with particular technologies such as nuclear energy and
biotechnology. Likewise for activists, ill-informed publics were perceived as a
barrier to political demands for action as well as changes in behaviour and lifestyle
that would enable transitions to sustainable development.
More recent experience, and a now large literature in Science and Technology
Studies, has challenged many of these assumptions. It has questioned the idea of
ignorant publics and instead explored the political, social, ethical and religious
basis on which people question and make sense of the technological choices and
social dilemmas with which they are presented.
Visvanathan coins the term
‘cognitive justice’ to convey the idea that, though often sidelined, non-expert or lay
engagements with technology and environmental decision-making are equally valid
even if they employ distinct epistemological tools to make sense of the world.
James Meadowcroft, ‘Deliberative democracy’, in Robert Durant, Daniel Florini and Rosemary
O’Leary (eds), Environmental Governance Reconsidered: Challenges, Choices and Opportunities
(Cambridge MA: MIT press, 2004), p. 183.
Bohman, Public Deliberation,p.17.
Brian Wynne, ‘Creating public alienation: Expert cultures of risk and ethics on GMOs’, Science as
Culture, 10:4 (2001), pp. 445–81.
Shiv Visvanathan, ‘Knowledge, justice and democracy’, in Melissa Leach, Ian Scoones and Brian
Wynne (eds), Science and Citizens (London: Zed, 2005), pp. 83–97.
Democratising biotechnology? 477
broader point is that decisions on these issues are essentially political and carry
social consequences and should not, therefore, be a closed technocratic exercise
undertaken by advocates of a new technology or those defined as having the
necessary expertise.
Even if it is contested outside the regulatory circle, there is little debate among
regulators about whether risk is the appropriate frame for public debate around
Rather, the debate centres on which risks should be the focus of
attention. This means that broader ethical questions around the desirability of the
technology, or of the power relations it implies, are left othe agenda. Instead,
scientific disputes become a surrogate for ‘unstated ethical or economic conflicts’.
For Levidow et al, risk assessment is the process by which ‘the state defines the
problems for which it accepts responsibility’.
Implied by it is a ‘social contract’
that specifies the terms under which state and society agree to accept the costs,
risks and benefits of a given technological choice, even if it is unclear how far
society is involved in making that choice.
Risk, in this sense, cannot be isolated from ethical and political questions about
socially acceptable levels of risk, how much uncertainty we are willing to live with
and socially negotiated trade-os between the risks and benefits of pursuing
particular courses of action. Despite this, many regulatory processes are designed
in such a way that these broader questions cannot be posed, let alone addressed.
Instead, regulations often reinforce a division of responsibility whereby environ-
mental risk assessments are determined by ‘objective’ science, socio-economic
eects are decided by consumer choice and bioethics are considered by professional
Analyses of regulatory policy processes show that they are often
consciously designed to exclude the possibility of wider debate and to contain
resistance to the promotion of controversial technologies.
Constructing publics as
ignorant, lacking in scientific literacy, ill-informed and only able to engage with
issues of technology on ‘emotional’ grounds, have been among the devices to create
public alienation.
This is in spite of the growing popularity of tools for public
participation in debates about biotechnology discussed below which, according to
Levidow, have in many cases ‘biotechnologized’ public participation by narrowing
issues to technical problems amenable to neo-liberal risk benefit analysis conducted
by specialised experts.
For example, while the European Commission conceded
that, in special cases, it may also consider socio-economic aspects of the
technology, the European biotech industry has insisted that product regulation
Elements of the following few paragraphs draw from Peter Newell, ‘Corporate power and bounded
autonomy in the global politics of biotechnology’, in Robert Falkner (eds), The International Politics
of Genetically Modified Food (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007), pp. 67–85.
Sheila Jasano, ‘Product, process or programme: Three cultures and the regulation of Biotechnol-
ogy’, in Martin Bauer, (ed.), Resistance to New Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1995), p. 325.
Les Levidow, Susan Carr, René von Schomberg and David Wield, ‘Regulating agricultural
biotechnology in Europe: harmonisation diculties, opportunities, dilemmas’, Science and Public
Policy, 23:3 (June 1996), pp 135–57, p. 136.
Julia Black, ‘Regulation as Facilitation: Negotiating the Genetic Revolution’, Modern Law Review,
61:5 (1998), pp. 621–60.
Jasano, ‘Product, process or programme’.
Wynne, ‘Creating public alienation’.
Les Levidow, ‘Democratizing technology or technologizing democracy? Regulating agricultural
biotechnology in Europe’, Technology in Society, 20 (1998), pp. 211–26, p. 220.
478 Peter Newell
should ‘assess only safety, quality and ecacy for man and the environment on the
basis of objective scientific criteria’.
‘From industry’s standpoint social need
should be determined by the free choice of consumers in the market’.
The market
then provides the means to circulate the benefits of products, fetishising the market
as an objective and benign force.
This is a far cry from the practice of
deliberation where ‘decisions should not be made on the basis of an aggregation
of preferences, or strategic compromise between competing interests, but on the
basis of publicly expressible reasons’.
In the face of attempts to present biotechnology development as inevitable and
a commercial and political necessity, activists have sought to democratise decision-
making through attempting to secure public rights to information, to expose
approval processes to public scrutiny. A rationale invoked for restricting public
access to information about technologies being considered for approval is the risk
of breaching the commercial confidentiality of firms. Concerns have been raised by
companies over the security and confidentiality of information and research
material submitted to government that could be lost to competitors during the
approval process. The reluctance of firms to disclose information about their
research and development work on GM crops inhibits, however, a more
participatory and inclusive policy process, in which other actors are in a position
to verify the status of claims being made about the stringency of tests being
undertaken. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US, for example, accepts
the lab and field studies of biotech companies, which show no occurrence of harm,
as a basis for policy. Voluntary private consultations with the agency before a
product is marketed are considered adequate.
Information submitted is not in the
public domain and much of the information is in fact confidential business
information. In the UK there is currently pressure not to identify sites where GM
crop trials are taking place in the wake of attempts by some activists to uproot the
crops in protest at their cultivation.
The frustration expressed by such acts
perhaps reflects the face that, ‘The principal way in which the public enters the area
of decisions as to the research and development of genetically-engineered products
is as a consumer’.
Participation in the process for most publics takes the form of
exercising consumer rights to buy, or refuse to buy, a product that has already
been approved for market entry. Ethical choices are then defined as matters of
‘individual choice which can be resolved by the market mechanism alone’.
Deliberation and public participation in traditionally closed and elite controlled
arenas is important, therefore, not just as an end in itself and an expression of the
importance of process, but as a means to open up, pluralise, and democratise
decision-making in areas which have such a crucial bearing on human and
environmental well-being.
Quoted in Levidow and Tait, ‘The greening of biotechnology’, p. 134.
Les Levidow, ‘Utilitarian bioethics? Market fetishism in the GM crops debate’, New Genetics and
Society, 20:1, (2001), pp. 75–84.
Smith and Brassett, ‘Deliberation and global governance’, p. 72.
Les Levidow, ‘Regulating Bt maize in the US and Europe: A scientific-cultural comparison’,
Environment (December 1999), pp. 10–23.
Ian Sample, ‘Scientists want top security for GM crop tests’, The Guardian (29 July 2008), p. 7.
Black, ‘Regulation as facilitation’, p. 628.
Wynne, ‘Public alienation’, p. 446–7.
Democratising biotechnology? 479
The case of biotechnology
Public anxiety about agricultural biotechnology has produced a series of key
conflicts in the international relations of environment and trade.
Alongside a case
at the WTO brought by the US, Canada and Argentina against the EU’s de facto
moratorium on GM crop approvals, we seen the exercise of coercive diplomacy
from key exporters of GMOs, most notably the US, including threats to withdraw
aid from developing countries wanting to impose moratoria on the import of GM
crops, threats of trade sanctions and retaliatory action. Those contesting the
technology have engaged in legal action, consumer boycotts and waves of direct
action including acts of civil disobedience such as up-rooting crops in GM field
trial sites.
The ways in which the debate about biotechnology has become caught up in the
high politics of trade and investment is unsurprising when we consider the
economic weight and political power of the actors at play in this field.
Nevertheless, the concentration of deliberative exercises in national political arenas
means that states, in a formal sense, are the conduits of representation between
national and international decision-making spheres. This would not be problematic
if states were not so closely aligned in the debate with the commercial interests
which stand to gain most from the technology’s promotion. The extent to which
this is so diers of course from one state to the next, but the most powerful actors
in the debate have the closest ties to the biotech industries, including the US,
Canada, Brazil and Argentina.
The state is not a neutral actor or mediator of competing societal interests in the
politics of agricultural biotechnology. Biotechnology has been conceived and hyped
as a central element of the new knowledge economy; a viable and important
accumulation strategy in an increasingly competitive global environment, even
amongst states that either initially rejected the technology or sought to pursue a
twin-track GM and non-GM agricultural path such as Brazil and China. The uptake
of the technology, despite ongoing resistance in parts of Europe and Asia, helps to
account for the contested terrain of deliberative politics around biotechnology.
In a context such as this, public participation and deliberation has served
dierent and competing purposes. At one end of the spectrum public consultations
and dialogues can be used in a ‘market-research’ function to ensure that
biotechnologies become accepted by a sceptical and worried public. At the other
end of the spectrum, participation can be used to deepen a democratic process
whereby citizens are entitled to know about the impact of technologies upon their
environment and to make their views known about how a technology should be
regulated. For example, opinion polls about the adequacy of biosafety regulations
give a snapshot picture of whether there is public trust in a regulatory system, but
Frans Brom, ‘WTO, public reason and food public reasoning in the “trade conflict” on GM food’,
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 7:4, (2004), pp. 417–31.
Ronald. J. Herring, ‘Opposition to transgenic technologies: Ideology, interests and collective action
frames’, Nature, 9 (2008), pp. 458–63; Peter Newell, ‘Trade and biotechnology in Latin America:
Democratization, Contestation and the Politics of Mobilization’, Journal of Agrarian Change, 8:2–3
(2008), pp. 345–76.
Peter Newell, ‘Globalisation and the governance of biotechnology’, Global Environmental Politics, 3:2
(2003), pp. 56–72; Peter Newell, ‘Bio-hegemony: The Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnol-
ogy in Argentina’, Journal of Latin American Studies, 41 (2009) pp. 27–57.
480 Peter Newell
they do not involve the public in how decisions are made. One of the general
findings of the study undertaken for DfiD is that there is currently an imbalance
in most countries approach to their obligations under Article 23 towards public
education and awareness-raising as opposed to the more dicult process of
developing eective mechanisms of consultation, participation and deliberation on
biosafety issues. The experience to date around debating biotechnology is that the
enabling conditions for participation, let alone deliberation, are highly uneven, a
reflection of low levels of resources in many settings, high levels of distrust of
information and processes overseen by authorities, and weakly embedded cultures
of participation in decision-making. Box 1, nevertheless, provides examples of some
of the tools that countries have deployed to date.
Box 1. Tools for Participation and Consultation
Supportive legal frameworks: Some countries have a law of public participa-
tion, such as in Bolivia. Laws on rights to information, as in Norway, make
it easier for the public to be meaningfully involved in biosafety decision-
On-going consultations: In the Netherlands, when a draft decision on the
deliberate release of GMOs is deposited for inspection, anyone may submit
written reservations to the administrative authority. In the UK, all proposed
releases are advertised and placed on a public register for the public to
comment. Governments can either facilitate internet dialogues with the
public, as in China, or as in Canada, encourage people to submit comments
via the web that are then compiled in a report and distributed during a
multi-stakeholder consultation.
Multi-level consultations: Many countries have organised these at state and
federal level including parliamentary hearings. Public hearings can be
organised by independent councils or local authorities for all approvals, as in
Denmark, with reports of the consultation being published afterwards. In
Denmark, consultations have also been organised at neighbourhood and
workplace level even for GMOs for contained use only. In the UK farm-scale
evaluations of GMOs have been conducted on sites decided on the basis of
local consultations.
On-going evaluation Stakeholder Forums, such as the African Biotechnology
Stakeholders Forum, can be set up to review biosafety procedures on an
ongoing basis.
Independent Advisory Committees: Examples include the Independent Scien-
tific Steering Committee in the UK. NGO-led and business-led consultations
also have an important role to play as business initiatives in India and the
use of citizen juries in Brazil and India suggests.
Royal Commissions: These can be independent bodies that produce recom-
mendations, such as in New Zealand. In this case the Commission looked at
the risks and benefits of the technology, broader public interest issues
including human health and the adequacy of regulatory processes.
Democratising biotechnology? 481
The various strategies that parties to the Cartagena Protocol have adopted are
not exclusive and stand-alone, but should be regarded as mutually supportive. In
many ways, they rely upon one another as key components of an ‘infrastructure
of participation’. For example, involving dierent public stakeholders means
keeping them informed of key decision-making processes and how they are likely
to be aected. This, in turn, assumes a basic legal and constitutional framework in
which people have rights of access to information and are entitled to be involved
in decisions which aect their lives. Similarly, to solicit certain types of input for
the design of biosafety frameworks, it makes sense to consult with groups that
identify themselves as stakeholders or interested parties, often at the national level.
But if the intention is to involve a more representative cross-section of society in
order to build public trust in a regulatory system and to identify and deliberate
upon issues of concern to society as a whole, then other exercises and approaches
become more pertinent. In this sense, formal legal and political infrastructures can
create spaces for participation and the enabling tools for active engagement
alongside alternative processes for creating dialogue and broadening the circle of
political participation in decision-making on biotechnology issues. This separation
to some extent parallels the distinction Dryzek draws between the ‘software’ of
deliberative democracy- discourse and communication-and the ‘hardware’ of
formal institutional structures.
Despite increasing emphasis on the importance of participation in environ-
mental policy, proscriptions about how countries should meet these obligations are
lacking in international law, such that countries enjoy a large degree of discretion
in how they choose to establish procedures for public participation. Some countries
have a law of public participation, such as in Bolivia. Within the EU, however,
directives on GMOs leave it up to individual member states whether or not to
consult the public on any aspect of their proposed use. Many countries, however,
have encouraged the submission of oral and written comments from the public on
specific decisions, plans, programmes or policies. The extent to which points raised
by the public are registered, acknowledged or acted upon depends on the political
will and capacity of governments to do so. Some countries require public hearings
before decisions are taken on the deliberate release of GMOs. In Austria, only
those members of the public that have given reasoned objections to an application
are invited to a hearing, but public authorities are then obliged to take the results
of the hearing into account. In other countries, such as Belgium, the municipality
in which an installation for contained use is to be built only has to carry out a
public consultation if it is deemed necessary.
Clearly, while crucial, the law can only go so far in facilitating and enabling
(rather than promoting) participation and deliberation. International conventions
set important precedents but provide no guarantees that countries will honour their
obligations. Enforcement of legal rights to consultation, participation and access to
information at the national level is critical, as are mechanisms of redress and
appeal when those rights are violated. Governments can only do so much,
however, for reasons of resources, credibility and reach. There remains an
Dominic Glover, James Keeley, Peter Newell, Rosemary McGee, Public Participation and the
Biosafety Protocol, Commissioned Study for DfiD and UNEP-GEF (Brighton: IDS, 2003).
Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy.
482 Peter Newell
important role for other actors with access and networks to groups that are often
not consulted on these issues on a routine basis that may not even be aware of
their rights under legal frameworks or the nature of regulations regarding
biotechnology. This is where more informal and non-legal approaches to partici-
pation are key in enabling other forms of participation and deliberation. The
deliberative and inclusive policy-making processes described below are not an
obligation for governments, though governments can help resource them, support
them and be involved in them. Rather, they provide fora in which and processes
by which rights to be heard can be claimed, rather than being legally owned a
priori. Not only do they have the potential to widen the circle of participation, they
hold the possibility of enabling a deeper form of participation in which choices are
deliberated and a level of cross-examination of expert opinion is encouraged, that
would not normally feature in conventional consultative processes. These methods
and techniques are collectively known as ‘deliberative and inclusive (or inclusion-
ary) policy processes’ (DIPs) (see box 2 for examples).
DIPs are deliberative in that they are intended to encourage open-ended and
mutually respectful dialogue between stakeholders or interested parties. Following
Dryzek, for whom deliberation represents ‘the essence of democracy’; a renewed
concern with the authenticity of democracy in which democratic control is
‘substantial rather than symbolic and engaged by competent citizens’,
tion goes beyond systems characterised solely by voting, interest aggregation or
even constitutional rights. Deliberative processes aim to facilitate or enable
meaningful collective deliberation among participants, rather than merely to collect
information or solicit opinions out of context. This is consistent with the idea that
public reasoning is the defining feature of deliberative democracy; ‘an attitude
toward social cooperation, that of openness to persuasion by reasons referring to
the claims of others as well as one’s own’.
DIPs must, therefore, be distinguished
clearly from events such as hearings or public meetings where a panel of ocials
or experts seeks information or views and answers questions, without enabling
an opportunity for collective discussion or open dialogue among the various
Deliberative and inclusive methods can be used both to support eective,
informed decisions and to enhance the transparency, democracy and legitimacy of
decision-making processes. Nevertheless, DIPs should be regarded as a complement
rather than a substitute or replacement for traditional democratic forums and
decision-making processes.
Conventional methods of consultation such as opin-
ion polls, questionnaires, hearings, meetings with electoral constituents or lobby
groups, and invitations for written comments can be used alongside more
innovative participatory methods such as citizens’ juries and internet dialogues.
Indeed, an important challenge is to ensure that the use of DIPs does not lead to
‘participation overload’ and duplication of eort.
Dryzek, ‘Deliberative Democracy’, p. 1.
Jurgen Habermas, The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory (Cambridge MA: MIT
press, 1998), p. 244.
Hemmati, Multi-stakeholder Processes; Holmes and Scoones, ‘Participatory Environmental Policy’;
SEC Commission of the European Communities, White Paper on European Governance: Enhancing
Democracy in the European Union, SEC (2000) 1547/7 Final October 11.
Democratising biotechnology? 483
Citizens’ juries: These typically involve a small, representative group of lay
participants convened to consider a particular question or issue. Over
several days, the ‘jury’ receives cross-questions, discusses and evaluates
‘evidence’ in the form of presentations made by experts. At the end, the
group is invited to make recommendations and a report is drawn up to
reflect the views of the jury-members, including any dierences of opinion.
Consensus conferences: A group of lay volunteers are selected according to
socio-economic and demographic characteristics. The group receives brief-
ings on the topic in question and meets in private to determine the
questions they wish to raise, before hearing and interrogating expert
witnesses on a public stage. Consensus conferences have a number of key
characteristics which distinguish them from citizen juries: greater oppor-
tunity to become familiar with the technicalities of a subject; larger degree
of initiative allowed to the panel, which produces and presents its own
report; the public and press are admitted to the conferences and can ask
their own questions.
Deliberative opinion polls: A deliberative poll measures public opinion when
people have had sucient time and information to consider a particular
issue. A large demographically representative group of up to several
hundred people conducts a debate on the matter in question, with the
opportunity to cross-examine key players. The group is polled on the issue
before and after the debate, allowing changes in opinion to be measured.
Focus groups: Typically a small group, broadly representative of the
particular citizen group being consulted. Participants discuss an issue of
concern, guided by a facilitator. The group is often not required to reach
conclusions, but rather the contents of the discussion are studied for what
they reveal about shared attitudes and understandings of an issue. Focus
groups are generally convened for no more than a couple of hours and do
not receive evidence from ‘witnesses’.
Internet dialogues: These refer to any form of interactive discussion that
takes place through the internet, such as online discussion forums. Internet
dialogues are increasingly being used for direct public consultation. The
advantage of these dialogues is that they provide a way of collecting a large
public response quickly. They also have the benefit of a rapid exchange of
ideas with a complete record. The danger is that participation is self-
selecting and unrepresentative and in many countries, for reasons of access,
will provide only a limited means of soliciting public views. There is also
less scope for group deliberation.
Issues forums: Similar to standing consultative panels / citizens’ panels (see
below), but normally a small group that focuses on a particular issue, with
regular meetings over time.
Multi-criteria mapping (MCM): A methodology aimed at combining the
transparency and clarity of statistical approaches with the unconstrained
framing of open-ended deliberations. The topic area is selected and basic
policy options defined. Participants are then interviewed individually, to
484 Peter Newell
The question of the extent to which and the ways in which DIPs can engage
or be picked up by formal decision-making processes is a moot one. Moving
beyond participation as spectacle; one-oevents that involve small numbers of
people without eecting lasting change, presents a series of dicult challenges for
activists. It means moving beyond regarding deliberation as an ‘add-on’ to existing
decision-making institutions and regarding it instead as a means of ‘continually
assessing the nature, basis and design of these institutions’.
Hence, whilst
might be right to suggest that genuine deliberation is more likely to take
place over longer periods of time in informal sites where the costs of moderation
and changing positions are less high, being situated in such venues and conducted
by such means also risks irrelevance in terms of broader political change. This
concern resonates with Smith and Brassett’s argument about the trade obetween
achieving ‘authentic’ deliberation at the expense of democratising global decision-
making processes.
See Tim Holmes and Ian Scoones, ‘Participatory environmental policy processes: Experiences from
North and South’, IDS Working paper 113 for discussion (2000), Brighton: IDS and POST
(Parliamentary Oce of Science and Technology), ‘Open Channels: Public Dialogue in Science and
Technology’, Report no. 153 (March 2001).
Smith and Brassett, ‘Deliberation and Global Governance’, p. 90.
Dryzek, Deliberative Global Politics.
Smith and Brassett, ‘Deliberation and Global Governance’.
develop additional policy options and define evaluative criteria. The
options are scored and relative weightings are applied to the criteria.
Participants then come together to discuss preliminary quantitative and
qualitative analysis provided by researchers, leading to a final report.
Scenario workshops or visioning exercises: Various types of DIPs methods
can be used to allow participants to articulate their vision of the future and
consider the kind of future they would like to create. These can be applied
to broad strategic questions down to specific local or sectoral issues.
Stakeholder dialogues: This is a generic term that applies to processes that
bring together aected and interested parties to deliberate and negotiate on
a particular issue.
Standing consultative panels or citizens’ panels: Normally a large, represen-
tative or group of citizens. A standing body is used as a market research
instrument for quantitative and qualitative research and consultation. The
panel is consulted periodically and a proportion of the members are
replaced at regular intervals. These can be used to sample changing
opinions and attitudes about a range of issues over time. For example, the
UK has a standing Peoples’ Panel consisting of 5,000 members of the
public selected at random. The panel is used to consult on key issues, track
how and why views are changing and conduct surveys
Box 2. Examples of DIPs
Democratising biotechnology? 485
Disciplinary neo-liberal participation
In many ways the embrace of DIPs can be understood as a reaction to the
limitations of state-led attempts at deliberation; an attempt to consciously re-cast
the boundaries of what can be debated, by whom and on whose terms. Often
activist-led, their use builds on and reacts against the weaknesses inherent in an
approach which casts citizens as ‘users and choosers’ rather than ‘makers and
shapers’ of policy. This is a distinction employed by Cornwall and Gaventa
denote the fundamental dierence between processes which allow people to
participate in making and enforcing policy themselves as opposed to selecting from
a pre-determined menu of future policy paths which they have played no part in
designing. There is clear evidence of such a distinction at play in the politics of
deliberation about biotechnology. The international workshops conducted by the
Global Environment Facility to train governments in tools of public participation
in which the author participated as a facilitator, were organised along the lines of
a separation between risk assessment and public participation, with the assumption
being that the latter has nothing to do with the former. Such a division overlooks
one of the main sources of distrust and suspicion around risk assessment processes:
their closed nature and the fact that they rarely allow for citizen inputs into
decisions about which risks should be assessed. The following quote from a
Brazilian MP highlights this dynamic at work. Referring to the work of Brazil’s
biosafety commission (CTNBIO) in light of legal challenges and protests from civil
society, Ronaldo Vasconcellos said:
We believe it desirable that the CTNBIO make its procedures more open to the Brazilian
society, breaking down myths and versions that have arisen, in many cases, because of the
closed, un-transparent procedures that marked its activities. We know that a forum of
scientists cannot become a popular assembly but, also, it must not be characterized by an
atmosphere of gods above the claims of the civil society. The authoritarian style that
marked the CTNBIO, especially its presidency up until the year 2001, did not eectively
contribute to the development of a biosafety policy in the best interests of the whole
Brazilian society.
Yet many states find themselves in a dilemma that results on the one hand from
the need for the public to recognise the legitimacy and trust the eectiveness of
public regulation and to generate consumer confidence that products are safe to
buy, and on the other hand the simultaneous desire to ensure that the technology’s
development is protected from prying public eyes which may slow innovation and
close oopportunities for market access in a competitive global environment. In
India, a familiar refrain from industry groups is that an approval process which
they caricature as being overly deliberative, as well as marred by legal actions and
civil society activism, has placed India at a competitive disadvantage with China
where such delays would not be tolerated.
Hence, while recognising the value of
being seen to take on board public anxieties about the technology, public
engagements are often seen as a means to the end of acceptance of GM products
Andrea Cornwall and John Gaventa, ‘From users and choosers to makers and shapers:
Re-positioning participation in social policy’, IDS Working Paper 127 (Brighton: IDS, 2001).
Glover et al, ‘Public Participation’ p. 9.
P. Newell, ‘Lost in Translation? Domesticating Global Policy on GMOs: Comparing India and
China’, Global Society, 22:1 (2008), pp. 115–36.
486 Peter Newell
rather than either as an end in themselves or a means to an inclusive debate about
a range of agricultural futures. The case for participation is often also strengthened
in the context of a legitimacy crisis about a government’s handling of an issue or
the ability of regulations to oer adequate protection. The UK’s ‘big debate’ on
GM foods can be understood as a response to public hostility to the technology
for example and the need to generate trust in the government’s handling of food
policy in the wake of the ‘mad cow’ BSE crisis.
One manifestation of how this tension between appeasing public concerns while
advancing technological development plays out is around the role of universal and
standardised forms of regulation. It manifests itself in the regulation of GMOs,
whereby increasing emphasis on public participation in the design of regulations,
not least within the Biosafety Protocol itself, sits uneasily with moves by bodies
such as the WTO and the OECD to remove scope for government autonomy in
responding to diverse public demands. I am referring to attempts to narrow the
terms by which countries may restrict the trade in the products of agricultural
biotechnology according to principles such as ‘sound science’ contained in WTO
accords, through attempts at harmonised frameworks of regulation minimally
disruptive to trade advanced by the OECD and legal challenges brought through
the WTO against countries responding to popular concern about GMOs by putting
in place moratoria and other restrictive measures. The danger is that publics will
become disillusioned and governments will lose credibility if processes of public
consultation and deliberation are seen to be irrelevant in the face of these pressures
for conformity. Engaged publics have sought to raise issues about whether their
society needs biotechnology, as well as broader social, ethical, moral and religious
issues regarding the technology’s development and application which were subse-
quently found to be ‘o-limits’ in terms of those issues that were presented to them
as legitimate to discuss and which governments were in a position to act upon,
because of the Protocol’s narrow focus on biosafety issues resulting from impacts
on biodiversity.
The problem with biotechnology, as with many other technologies in which
significant amounts of capital have been invested and which are backed by very
powerful and well-connected political lobbies, is that no matter what the outcome
of public consultations and deliberations, the technology will be adopted in one
form or another because there is too much at stake. Prior choices by states based
on broader political and commercial commitments, mean that the debate about
whether a society wants agricultural biotechnology and under what circumstances
has, in many ways, already been bypassed by the reality of imported goods from
GM exporting nations. In such a context the space for engagement is reduced to
a decision about whether the foods we eat should be labelled or not since the food
chain already contains the technology or, in the case of the receipt of GM food aid
in times of crisis such as happened in Zambia and Mozambique, whether to eat or
go hungry. As the headline of The Ecologist put it, perhaps rather starkly; ‘Eat shit
or die? The US presents Africa with a choice’.
In many cases the timing of
deliberative and participatory processes is poorly coordinated with when decisions
need to be made. By the time Argentina was encouraged to develop a National
Biosafety Framework for soliciting public views and deliberating on the subject,
‘Eat Shit or Die? America gives Africa a choice’, The Ecologist, 33:2 (2003), front cover.
Democratising biotechnology? 487
over 85 per cent of the soy produced in the country was already GM and attempts
to generate debate were seen as a threat to what industry groups claimed was a
prevailing consensus in favour of the technology.
As Glover puts it; ‘Under such
circumstances, a number of powerful interests share a common incentive to avoid
opening up public debates about the implications of biotechnology in case public
opposition or consumer unease were to place political constraints on its further
development and commercialisation’.
The opposite is also true. Where there are
fewer vested interests and consensus among stakeholders is higher, governments
may feel less threatened by public participation and deliberation around key policy
decisions. In relation to the Biosafety Protocol itself it seems; ‘the foundational
assumptions behind the Protocol imply strongly that there can and should be a
trade in GMOs and that such a trade can be conducted safely. Logically, there has
to be a strong presumption that these questions, having been decided in other
arenas, cannot be re-opened and are therefore to be excluded from public
The case of deliberation around biotechnology and the way it should be governed
provides a series of important insights for an enquiry into the theory and practice
of deliberation and its relationship to global governance.
Firstly, the importance of the national context in which deliberation is expected
to take place as a determinant of the extent to which citizen concerns will be
sought, acted upon or carried forward into global arenas. This is crucial given that
while many global institutions enable deliberation between states, they tend to view
deeper and more inclusive forms of deliberation as the responsibility of the state
and national public arenas as the appropriate venues to realise them. Within those
spaces we find evidence of uneven deliberative capabilities and of diverse cultures
of deliberation. Examples above show quite clearly that what is possible in
Denmark with local level consultations or the farm-scale evaluations in the UK is
simply not possible or realistic in China, despite some evidence of moves in a
deliberative direction.
Questions of state capacity and willingness, civil society
independence and resources and the extent to which there is a developed
biotechnology industry that stands to gain from the technology will sharply
configure the contours of what is possible. This insight also sheds light on the often
Euro-centric assumptions implicit in ideas about deliberation. As Gupta and
Bartlett argue: ‘nearly all of the rapidly growing literature on applied deliberative
democracy is focussed on experiences and circumstances as they exist in the
wealthy liberal democracies of the world’.
Presumptions are made of a capable
Peter Newell, ‘Bio-hegemony: The Political Economy of Agricultural Biotechnology in Argentina’,
Journal of Latin American Studies, 41 (2009), pp. 25–57.
Dominic Glover, ‘Public participation in national biotechnology policy and biosafety regulation’,
IDS Working Paper, 198 (Brighton: IDS, 2003), p. 10.
Ibid., p. 6.
Ethan. J. Leib and Baogang He, The Search for Deliberative Democracy in China (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2006).
Gupta and Bartlett, ‘Necessary preconditions’, p. 94.
488 Peter Newell
and responsive state with a measure of distance from the corporations it is charged
with regulating as well as about arenas of civic engagement where citizens can
freely participate, debate and express preferences without fear of reprisal. Such a
model, idealised in any case, does not adequately describe the majority world. This
is particularly problematic in the case of biotechnology given that it is, arguably,
in the majority world that those who stand to gain and lose the most live.
Secondly, debates about the potential of deliberation to construct new forms of
global governance need to take into account the materialities of deliberation. This
is not just a reference to the economic resources and political infrastructure
required to enable deliberation. It is a reference to the constraints on policy
autonomy and policy space that determine the scope for autonomous state action
in a neo-liberal global political economy.
States, some more than others, are
compromised in their ability to pursue development paths of their choosing.
Disciplinary neo-liberalism means states can be punished by market actors’ ability
to withdraw or withhold investment, though often the coercive and economic
might of states is also bought to bear.
Democratic space is reduced when trade
rules constrain the space for national public deliberation. Policies and measures
that may be popularly desirable, such as labelling, comprehensive and precaution-
ary forms of risk assessment, forms of trade protection for the poor, restrictions
on investment in domestic seed markets or even moratoriums on the trade in
GMOs, are increasingly dicult to enforce on the basis that they are incompatible
with global trade accords.
The extent of this ‘disciplining’ of domestic autonomy is disputed. Millstone
and Van Zwanenberg argue that there is sucient ambiguity in the respective
accords dealing with these issues that developing countries can carve out for
themselves a broad domestic priority-driven agenda without fear of direct conflict
with WTO strictures.
Government decision-making takes place in a condition of
‘bounded autonomy’,
however. Indeed, one of the over-riding narratives sur-
rounding biotechnology is the ‘success’ of consumer and NGO activism in halting
the technology’s penetration of global markets. For Falkner,
it provides a case
of the limits of business power. The concern here, however, is the influence that the
prevailing commercial and policy environment exerts on the politics of deliberation.
Hence whilst sharing Dryzek’s emphasis upon competing discourses as sites of
and as one means of democratising global power, it is important to
retain the notion that discourses are also created by some one, for some purpose
Robert Wade, ‘What strategies are viable for developing countries today? The World Trade
Organisation and the shrinking of development space’, Review of International Political Economy,
10:4 (2003), pp. 621–44; Kevin. P. Gallagher, (ed.), Putting Development First: The Importance of
Policy Space in the WTO and International Financial Institutions (London: Zed books, 2005).
Stephen Gill, ‘Globalisation, market civilisation and disciplinary neo-liberalism’, Millennium: Journal
of International Relations, 24:3 (1995). pp. 399–423.
Erik Millstone and Patrick van Zwanenberg, ‘Food and agricultural biotechnology policy: How
much autonomy can developing countries exercise?’, Development Policy Review, 21:5–6, (2003), pp.
Newell, ‘Corporate power’.
Robert Falkner, Business Power and Conflict in International Environmental Politics (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2007).
Dryzek, Deliberative Democracy.
Democratising biotechnology? 489
to coin Cox’s phrase;
they reflect material interests which are also confronting
one another in deliberation and may often have exercised a prior influence on the
conduct and outcome of the debate.
Thirdly, we need to be clear about the extent to which the global polity and the
structures and institutions of global governance can, in any meaningful way, be
democratised, with or without a deepening of deliberation and citizen engagement.
Politics conducted in global arenas is necessarily an elite politics with requirements
of high levels of resources to attend and participate eectively in negotiations and
barriers to participation which include forms of scientific and legal expertise which
exclude all but the most powerful states. We also have to appreciate the power
relations between states which mean that most developing countries are not free to
deliberate on issues, even ones as fundamental as which food to eat, which
agricultural base to develop and which industries to support. Many such decisions
are, de facto, made by the World Bank and the IMF. Ties of aid, trade and
investment mean that policy decisions are not often choices freely arrived at on the
basis of a reading of national economic and developmental priorities. They reflect
conditions imposed by neo-liberal reform packages whose non-acceptance could
imply economic ruin. Such economic realities provide an important check on the
liberal assumptions that often run though policy and academic thinking in this
Emphasising the limits of democratising global governance is not the same as
arguing that all forms of deliberation within and about global fora are futile or
that forms of deliberation are not possible within and beyond global fora. They are
available to states and a restricted circle of civil society actors within international
institutions. It is clearly not realistic, however, to expect face-to-face forms of
deliberation within such spaces in a way which can meaningfully or practically
include a global citizenry. Delegation, subsidiarity and other means of negotiating
multi-level decision-making need to be employed to ensure that a range of
approaches to deliberation flourish and can be represented within global decision-
making. Global policy-makers move between arenas and across scales so that
decisions about global issues are not only made within global fora. Channels of
influence are of course far more complex and diuse than that, and global politics
are conducted in an increasingly diverse range of formal and informal institutional
settings. It is clearly the case that global deliberation, understood as deliberation
on key issues of global consequence, does have to take place in arenas which carry
the label ‘global’. We should not confuse scale and space; virtual and real
deliberations in a variety of spaces can be used to debate and influence global
Arguments such as those I have presented here, nevertheless, place this analysis
within the critical tradition of deliberation in so far as I have emphasised the
potential of forms of deliberation initiated by civil society, often going beyond or
in opposition to the ‘hardware’ of deliberation provided by states, to deepen forms
of public engagement in politics. By emphasising DIPs as one channel by which
this might be achieved, I have not sought to reify civil society as an emancipatory
space. Indeed, questions have been posed about the scope, representativity and
Robert Cox, ‘Social forces, states and world order: Beyond International Relations theory’,
Millennium Journal of International Studies, 10:2, (1981), pp. 126–51.
490 Peter Newell
long-term eectiveness of such strategies. But set against the alternative of state-led
processes of participation and deliberation in which the possibility of open-ended
debate has been restricted at the outset by prior commitments to biotechnology,
such that public engagements are transformed from being opportunities to listen,
learn and shape policies in new ways, to being used as tools for convincing a
sceptical public, train those involved in the global trade in GM products about
rules and regulations or as blatant market surveying, they hold out some promise.
Indeed, in considering the opportunity costs of deliberation, it is worth keeping in
the mind the political and economic costs that result from excluding publics from
decision-making; ‘dysfunctional, inappropriate or inecient regulation, illegitimacy
or poor accountability in decision-making and resistance to the implementation of
unpopular policies’.
The article has been critical in another sense, however, and that is in its
scepticism regarding the possibilities of deliberation about global issues within
global arenas and spaces as opposed to national engagements on questions of
world politics given the structural and processual barriers that conspire to
constrain such possibilities. I would also suggest, at the risk of being very
instrumental, that deliberation in political terms, for all its merits as an approach
to deepening democracy through civic engagement in and of itself, provides a
means to an end. That end may be greater accountability, transparency, or public
participation, but these aims in turn are means to make policy more eective,
equitable and just. Strategies of deliberation should perhaps be ultimately judged
according to their ability to help achieve these broader ends.
Glover, ‘Public participation’, p. 25.
Democratising biotechnology? 491
... The integration of biotechnology and REDD/REDDþ to the "developing world" requires a critical analysis. Both these programs are imposed with national and international institutional support, requiring large sums of public and private funds, while biotechnology dedicates large expenditures to advertising and public relations, projecting an image of positive environmental change (Newell 2009(Newell , 2010Shiva 2013;Spitzer 2001). Before examining these two environmentaldirected ventures, the origin and framework of this approach will be discussed. ...
... The contamination or imposition of values is calculated and begins at the top of the institutional hierarchy, where regulatory policies are often known to be "consciously designed to exclude the possibility of wider debate and to contain resistance to the promotion of controversial technologies" (Newell 2010: 478). For example "risk assessments" only challenge aspects biotechnology's social integration, leaving larger social, ethical, and political issues marginalized, creating a situation where the state defines the problem and remedy, subsequently placing responsibility on individual consumers for their intake of GM products (Newell 2010). Reminding us of the limited accountability for the social integration of agricultural biotechnology, Newell (2010: 479) writes, "[t]he principle way in which the public enters the area of decisions as to the research and development of genetically-engineered products is as consumer." ...
... First, how would someone know there are genetically engineered ingredients in food unless they are publicly notified and labeled? This is an issue that is voted on and often denied for a variety of reasons, often because they contradict or are incompatible with global trade accords (Newell 2010), but labeling would at the least allow a semi-conscious choice (if you care, read labels, and can read) to engage with the still uncertain long-term risk of the mass consumption of GM products, which introduce new genes into the land and bodies of people. Second, a class issue arises when all the cheap foods are genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered foods are expensive and are available in specialty health food stores. ...
This paper provides a comparative analysis of agricultural biotechnology and the United Nations program for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). Despite the existing differences between the technical manipulation of biological systems and a conservation program aimed at reducing carbon and protecting forests, the two share commonalities in ideological origin, application, and values. Presented as positive developments, both seek to address large-scale issues such as global hunger and climate change, but while receiving national and international support they remain controversial issues. Both issues are critically assessed, beginning with a brief history, followed by the application of William Dugger's four invaluation processes: contamination, subordination, emulation, and mystification. This approach unravels the subtle social power of state and market forces that seek to control genetic material and forest frontiers as new outlets for growth and investment.
... These viewpoints and experiences may be different from those of experts and politicians, but equally valid and complementary, highlighting the need to maintain public deliberation of emerging technologies and their implications. 102 In any case, it is fairly obvious that navigating complex social and technological issues is not made easier by keeping them opaque and vague. In fact, a more transparent democratic deliberation can assist governments in achieving compliance with human rights norms, avoiding issues with both legality and proportionality. ...
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The injection of emerging technologies into policing implies that policing mandates in law may become mediated and applied through opaque machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence, or surveillance tools-contributing to a form of 'black box policing' challenging foreseeability and clarity and expanding discretionary legal spaces. In this paper, this issue is explored from a constitutional and rule of law perspective, using the requirements of qualitative legality elaborated by the European Court of Human Rights and the implicit democratic values that they serve. Placing this concept of legality into a wider theoretical framework allows legality to be translated into a context of emerging technology to maintain the connections between rule of law, democracy, and individual autonomy.
... However, as the deliberative dimension becomes more important and the logic of arguing introduces uncertainty about the outcomes, a change of attitude tends to emerge even for the structurally strong states. In other words, environmental negotiations are politically constructed rather than determined by the structure of the international system, although they also bear the imprint of contemporary international political economy (Newell 2010). ...
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Mainstream literature in international relations understands negotiations in terms of power politics and/or bargaining processes between rival national interests to account for states’ negotiating stands. Using definitions and questions initially defined by Thomas Risse, this study of processes at work in the biodiversity regime underlines instead their deliberative dimension and its contribution to positive negotiation outcomes. However, the article also challenges the dominant understanding of deliberation in global environmental politics that focuses on the participation of non-governmental organizations and other interest groups in the ‘public space’. Instead it identifies deliberative elements in the negotiation process proper, stressing in particular the importance of the relationships developed between governmental delegations through series of closed meetings of selected participants. This contribution uses for illustration the negotiations leading to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization.
The chapter discusses different objectives of public participation in synthetic biology and suggests six focus areas across all governance dimensions, hard law, soft law, education, research impact, and research infrastructure, to design effective participation in synthetic biology. The authors identified three focus areas in participation—communication, representation, and evaluation—that are of particular importance for ensuring trust and justice as core values of SB governance. In addition, three intersecting focus areas in governance provide incentives for decision-making: resources, training, and data management. Furthermore, the authors highlight the question of responsibility as an area that requires special attention.KeywordsObjectives of ParticipationFocus Areas, CommunicationRepresentation, EvaluationResources, TrainingData ManagementResponsibilityFormats
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This chapter examines the relationship between positivism and public intellectualism in the American disciplinary context and asks to what extent is positivism the problem in this relationship. It argues that the successive waves of disciplinary discontent revolving around positivism are intimately entwined with the desire for relevance so that more is at play here than epistemological preferences. Relevance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, which suggests that for what or to whom American political scientists and IR scholars wish to be relevant is just as important for understanding their discontent with positivism as its own attributes. Examining this desire for relevance reveals substantive end-goals intimately connected to the American power project. It therefore raises important ethical questions about our relationship to the American national context, our role as public intellectuals in reifying American power, and the impact our reification has on global affairs. This chapter considers these issues and concludes with a discussion of the dangers posed by our desire to be useful to a particular, relatively powerful, national context. It suggests that while the desire for relevance is in keeping with that context, it is also an ethically questionable position.
Cambridge Core - Environmental Policy, Economics and Law - Global Green Politics - by Peter Newell
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This article explores how analysis of material objects offers insights into international intervention and reactions to that intervention. Building on studies that examine the 4x4 as emblematic of intervention, the article argues that the 4x4 can also be seen as an object of resistance and agency. To do so, it uses the case study of 4x4 usage in Darfur and draws on primary data including interviews and a UN security incident database. The article is mindful of the limitations of a ‘material turn’ in the study of International Relations, especially in relation to how it might encourage us to overlook agency and structural power. While finding new materialism arguments largely convincing, the case study encourages a note of caution and proposes the notion of ‘materialism+’, which allows for the further investigation of the human/non-human interface, but is circumspect about tendencies towards neophilia, dematerialism, and posthumanism.
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Exploring the divergent aspects of the rule of neoliberalism in Turkey since 1980s, each chapter in this book highlights a specific dimension of this socio-economic process and together, these essays construct a thorough examination of the whirlwind of changes recently experienced by Turkish society. With particular focus on the new ways in which social power operates, expert contributors explore new discourses and subjectivities around environmentalism, health, popular culture, economic policies, feminism and motherhood, urban space and minorities, class and masculinities. By questioning the primary influence of the state in these micro-political matters, they engage with concepts of neoliberalism and governmentality to provide a fresh, grounded and analytical perspective on the routes through which social power navigates the society. This sustained examination of the new axes of power and subjectivity, with a particular eye on the formation of new political spaces of governance and resistance, deepens the analysis of Turkey’s experiment with neoliberal globalization. © Cenk Ozbay, Maral Erol, Aysecan Terzioglu and Z. Umut Turem 2016. All rights reserved.
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In a post-Cold War era characterised by globalisation and deep interdependence, the actions of national governments increasingly have an effect beyond their own territorial borders. Moreover, key agents of global governance – international organisations and their bureaucracies, non-state actors and private agents – exercise pervasive forms of authority. Due to these shifts, it is widely noted that world politics suffers from a democratic deficit. This article contributes to work on global democracy by looking at the role of international courts. Building upon an original dataset covering the 24 international courts in existence since the end of the Second World War, we argue that international courts are able to advance democratic values and shape democratic practices beyond the state. They can do so by fostering equal participation, accountability, and public justification that link individuals directly with sites of transnational authority. We contend that the ability of international courts to promote these values is conditioned by institutional design choices concerning access rules, review powers, and provisions regarding judicial reason-giving. We canvass these design features of different international courts and assess the promises and pitfalls for global democratisation. We conclude by linking our analysis of international courts and global democratisation with debates about the legitimation and politicisation of global governance at large.
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This article compares the way in which China and India, two leading developing countries in the global debate on biotechnology, have sought to translate policy commitments contained in international agreements on trade and biosafety into workable national policy. It is a complex story of selective interpretation, conflict over priorities and politicking at the highest levels of government. It connects the micro-politics of inter-bureaucratic turf wars with the diplomacy of inter-state negotiations and coalition building. Empirically, the article provides the first systematic comparison of patterns of implementation in the two countries based on extensive fieldwork, contributing to debates about biotechnology regulation and the extent to which developing countries can exercise policy autonomy in a global environment of high commercial interest and aggressive political lobbying. Conceptually, the article develops thinking about the interaction and non-linear relationship between “domestic” and “international” policy-making arenas and does so in a way which is sensitive to the key role of non-state actors in this field.
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The EC Deliberate Release Directive 901220 responded to a wide-ranging risk debate on the intentional release ofGMOs. It was to integrate environmental precaution with market harmonisation: New networks have offered opportunities for influencing the expertise and concepts which would guide its implementation. In particular, 'familiarity' has been promoted as a euphemismfor acknowledging and clarifying uncertainty about biotechnological risk. The Directive provided a flexible framework for evaluating potential effects of GMOs their statutory relevance, acceptability, causality andplausibility. Regulators have had to devise normativejudgements, for which divergent norms have arisenfrom national differences in regulatory style and institutional framework. Only by learning from these differences can the regulatory procedure accommodate the wider risk debate and thus address the legitimacy problems ofbiotechnology.
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This paper considers the challenges entailed in applying the principles and methods of public participation to national and international policy processes. It draws on evidence from the field of biotechnology policy and biosafety regulation in Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zimbabwe. The paper makes a distinction between the regulatory-scientific concept of “biosafety” and the more encompassing and socially-defined politics of “biotechnology”. “Biosafety”, developed largely at the international level, frames the regulatory issues relating to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) within narrow and technically-defined boundaries. As a consequence of the drive to harmonise and normalise biosafety regulation internationally, it has confronted the more diverse, unruly and contested politics of biotechnology at national and local levels. The way in which participation occurs in practice is shaped and constrained by the interplay of the politics of “biosafety” and international harmonisation on one hand, and the more inclusive politics of biotechnology on the other, in particular national contexts. The experiences of the 16 countries are discussed along three dimensions: the influence of the European Union’s moratorium on GMOs; their domestic contexts (including ecological, socio-economic and political-cultural factors, as well as international aid, trade and investment relationships); and their domestic capacity in biotechnology research and development. While there are positive examples to be found in the experiences of different countries, generally there is an unsatisfactory compromise between the obligation to promote public participation and the need to conform to international standards. Often, lip service is paid to participation without providing the substance. More seriously, even when governments have the will to include the public in decision making, they may lack the capacity to do so effectively, or to stand by the concerns of their publics in the face of opposition from powerful foreign countries.
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This paper examines relations between the state and capital in Argentina with respect to agricultural biotechnology. Argentina is one of the world's leading exporters of genetically modified (GM) crops and is a key player in the global politics of biotechnology. Whereas in other parts of the world, including other countries in Latin America, active civil societies and sonic governments have rejected the technology, Argentina has adopted it as a central accumulation strategy. The desirability of this strategy has been secured in material, institutional and discursive arenas of power, producing a particular expression of 'bio-hegemony'. Looking at the role of business in the political economy of agricultural biotechnology is revelling both of the extent and forms of corporate power and contributes to an understanding of hegemony in practice.
Contradictions associated with the growth in the power of capital suggest that the prevailing discourse and forces of globalising neoliberalism may have failed to gain more than temporary dominance or supremacy. A period of global recomposition of social forces may be emerging to reconfigure world order. A central task of global political economy is to theorise possibilities for a democratic transformation of world order, in the context of consciousness, culture, and material life, so as to transcend the oxymoron of neoliberal 'market civilisation'.