Advertisement

NGO perspectives on the social and ethical dimensions of plant genome-editing

  • Richard HelliwellEmail author
  • Sarah Hartley
  • Warren Pearce
Article

Abstract

Plant genome editing has the potential to become another chapter in the intractable debate that has dogged agricultural biotechnology. In 2016, 107 Nobel Laureates accused Greenpeace of emotional and dogmatic campaigning against agricultural biotechnology and called for governments to defy such campaigning. The Laureates invoke the authority of science to argue that Greenpeace is putting lives at risk by opposing agricultural biotechnology and Golden Rice and is notable in framing Greenpeace as unethical and its views as marginal. This paper examines environmental, food and farming NGOs’ social and ethical concerns about genome editing, situating these concerns in comparison to alternative ethical assessments provided by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a key actor in this policy debate. In doing so, we show that participant NGOs and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics share considerable concerns about the social and ethical implications of genome editing. These concerns include choices over problem/solution framing and broader terminology, implications of regulatory and research choices on consumer choice and relations of power. However, GM-engaged NGOs and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics diverge on one important area: the NGOs seek to challenge the existing order and broaden the scope of debate to include deeply political questions regarding agricultural and technological choices. This distinction between the ethical positions means that NGOs provide valuable ethical insight and a useful lens to open up debate and discussion on the role of emerging technologies, such as genome editing, and the future of agriculture and food sovereignty.

Keywords

Agricultural biotechnology Plant genome editing NGOs Ethics Nuffield council on bioethics 

Abbreviations

BSE

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy

CRISPR

Clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats

ECNH

Federal ethics committee on non-human biotechnology

EU

European union

GM

Genetically modified

GMO

Genetically modified organism

NBT

New breeding techniques

NGO

Non-governmental organisations

NPBT

New plant breeding techniques

TALEN

Transcription activator-like effector nucleases

UK

United Kingdom of great Britain and Northern Ireland

ZFN

Zinc finger nucleases

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by funding from the following sources: the Governance and Public Policy Research Priority Area Award, University of Nottingham; the Business, Institutions and Policy Research Cluster Award, University of Exeter; and the Research Development Fund, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield. We would like to thank Penny Polson (University of Manchester) for her assistance in data collection and Liz O’Neill (GM Freeze) for her assistance in the identification of and initial contact with participant NGOs.

References

  1. Ansell, C., R. Maxwell, and D. Sicurelli. 2006. Protesting food: NGOs and political mobilization in Europe. In What’s the Beef?: The contested governance of european food safety, ed. C. Ansell and D. Vogel, 97–122. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bee-Life., Corproate Europe Observatory., Econexus., Via Campesina., Friends of the Earth Europe., GeneWatch UK., Greenpeace European Unit. and Testbiotech. 2015. Open letter to the Commission on new genetic engineering methods, Testbiotech. https://www.testbiotech.org/en/content/open-letter-commission-new-genetic-engineering-methods-january-2015. Accessed 3 Feb 2017.
  3. Beyond GM. 2016. GMO or GM-NO—How will the EU regulate new plant breeding technologies? https://beyond-gm.org/gmo-or-gm-no-how-will-the-eu-regulate-new-plant-breeding-technologies/. Accessed 3 Feb 2017.
  4. Braun, K., and S. Schultz. 2010. “… A certain amount of engineering involved”: Constructing the public in participatory governance arrangements. Public Understanding of Science 19 (4): 403–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brunk, C., and S. Hartley. 2012. Designer animals: Mapping the issues in animal biotechnology. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bunton, R., and A. Peterson. 2005. Genetic governance: Health risk and ethics in the biotech era. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Callaway, E. 2018. CRISPR plants now subject to tough GM laws in European Union. Nature 560: 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Catacora-Vargas, G., R. Binimelis, A.I. Myhr, and B. Wynne. 2018. Socio-economic research on genetically modified crops: A study of the literature. Agriculture and Human Values 35 (2): 489–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Confédération Paysanne and Others v Premier Ministre and Ministre de L’agriculture, de L’agroalimentaire et de la Forêt. Case C-528/16. 2018. European Court of Justice. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A62016CJ0528. Accessed 15 Oct 2018.
  10. Doudna, J., and E. Charpentier. 2014. The new frontier of genome engineering with CRISPR-Cas9. Science 346 (6213): 11258096–11258099.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dowdeswell, E., A. Daar, and P. Singer. 2005. Getting governance into genomics. Science and Public Policy 32 (6): 497–498.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eden, S., A. Donaldson, and G. Walker. 2006. Green groups and grey areas: Scientific boundary-work, nongovernmental organisations, and environmental knowledge. Environment and Planning A 38: 1061–1076.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Entman, R. 1993. Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication 43 (4): 51–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH). 2012. Release of genetically modified plantsethical requirements, Berne: Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology. https://www.ekah.admin.ch/en/ecnh-opinions-and-reports/ecnh-reports/. Accessed 15 Oct 2018.
  15. GM Freeze. 2016. GM Freeze response to Nuffield Council on Bioethics call for evidence on Genome Editing. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/genome-editing-evidence-GM-Freeze.pdf. Accessed 3 Feb 2017.
  16. GM Watch. 2016. Brussels biotech lobby’s last push for “GM 2.0” technologies to escape regulation. https://www.gmwatch.org/en/news/latest-news/16690-brussels-biotech-lobby-s-last-push-for-gm-2-0-technologies-to-escape-regulation. Accessed 3 Feb 2017.
  17. Goffman, E. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. New York: Harper Colophon Books.Google Scholar
  18. Greenpeace International. 2016. Nobel laureates sign letter on Greenpeace ‘Golden’ rice positionstatement. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/press/releases/2016/Nobel-laureates-sign-letter-on-Greenpeace-Golden-rice-position-reactive-statement/. Accessed 14 Mar 2017.
  19. Hartley, S. 2016a. The treatment of social and ethical concerns in policy responses to agricultural biotechnology: An historical analysis. In The intellectual property–regulatory complex: Overcoming barriers to innovation in agricultural genomics, ed. E. Marden, R. Godfrey, and R. Manion, 42–67. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hartley, S. 2016b. Policy masquerading as science: An examination of non-state actor involvement in risk assessment policy for genetically modified animals. Journal of European Public Policy 23 (2): 276–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hartley, S., and K. Millar. 2014. The challenges of consulting the public on science policy: Examining the development of European risk assessment policy for genetically modified animals. Review of Policy Research 31 (6): 481–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hartley, S., W. Pearce, and A. Taylor. 2017. Against the tide of depoliticisation: The politics of research governance. Policy and Politics 45 (3): 361–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hedgecoe, A. 2010. Bioethics and the reinforcement of socio-technical expectations. Social Studies of Science 40 (2): 163–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hedgecoe, A., and P. Martin. 2003. The drugs don’t work: Expectations and the shaping of pharmacogenetics. Social Studies of Science 33 (3): 327–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Helliwell, R., S. Hartley, W. Pearce, and L. O’Neill. 2017. Why are NGOs sceptical of genome editing?: NGOs’ opposition to agricultural biotechnologies is rooted in scepticism about the framing of problems and solutions, rather than just emotion and dogma. EMBO Reports 18 (12): 2090–2093.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hennink, M. 2007. International focus group research: A handbook for the health and social sciences. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hilbeck, A., R. Binimelis, N. Defarge, R. Steinbrecher, A. Székács, F. Wickson, M. Antoniou, P.L. Bereano, E.A. Clark, M. Hansen, and E. Novotny. 2015. No scientific consensus on GMO safety. Environmental Sciences Europe 27: 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. 2015. Revised transcript of evidence taken before The Select Committee on Science and Technoloy inquiry on Genetically Modified Insects. Evidence Session No. 2, London: House of Lords. https://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/science-technology/GMInsects/GMInsectsevidence.pdf. Accessed 15 Oct 2018.
  29. Hwang, W.Y., Y. Fu, D. Reyon, M.L. Maeder, S.Q. Tsai, J.D. Sander, R.T. Peterson, J.J. Yeh, and J.K. Joung. 2013. Efficient genome editing in zebrafish using a CRISPR-Cas system. Nature Biotechnology 31: 227–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Jasanoff, S. 2005. Designs on nature: Science and democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jones, H. 2015. Regulatory uncertainty over genome editing. Nature Plants 1: 14011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kinchy, A. 2010. Anti-genetic engineering activism and scientized politics. Agriculture and Human Values 27: 505–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kirwan, J., and D. Maye. 2013. Food security framings within the UK and the integration of local food systems. Journal of Rural Studies 29: 91–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Komaroff, A. 2017. Gene editing using CRISPR: Why the excitement? JAMA 318 (8): 699–700.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Krueger, R., and M. Casey. 2014. Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. London, UK: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Kuzma, J. 2016. Reboot the debate on genetic engineering. Nature 531: 165–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kuzma, J., A. Kokotovich, and A. Kuzhabekova. 2016. Attitudes towards governance of gene editing. Asian Biotechnology and Development Review 18 (1): 69–92.Google Scholar
  38. Lambert, S., and C. Loiselle. 2008. Combining individual interviews and focus groups to enhance data richness. Journal of Advanced Nursing 62 (2): 228–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ledford, H. 2015. CRISPR, the disrupter. Nature 522: 20–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lusser, M., and H. Davis. 2013. Comparative regulatory approaches for groups of new plant breeding techniques. New Biotechnology 30 (5): 437–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lusser, M., C. Parisi., D. Plan., and E. Rodríguez-Cerezo. 2011. New plant breeding techniques State-of-the-art and prospects for commercial development, Brussels: European Commission Joint Research Centre. https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/eur-scientific-and-technical-research-reports/new-plant-breeding-techniques-state-art-and-prospects-commercial-development. Accessed 19 Jan 2017.
  42. Miller, D. 1999. Risk, science and policy: definitional struggles, information management, media and BSE. Social Science and Medicine 49: 1239–1255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Miller, J.C., S. Tan, G. Qiao, K.A. Barlow, J. Wang, D.F. Xia, X. Meng, D.E. Paschon, E. Leung, S.J. Hinkley, and G.P. Dulay. 2011. A TALE nuclease architecture for efficient genome editing. Nature Biotechnology 29: 143–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Mooney, P., and S. Hunt. 2009. Food security: The elaboration of contested claims to a consensus frame. Rural Sociology 74 (4): 469–497.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Morris, C., R. Helliwell, and R. Sujatha. 2016. Framing the agricultural use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance in UK national newspapers and the farming press. Journal of Rural Studies 45: 43–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2012. Emerging biotechnologies: Technology, choice and the public good, London, UK: Nuffield Council on Bioethics. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/emerging-biotechnologies. Accessed 19 Jan 2017.
  47. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2016. Genome editing: An ethical review, London, UK: Nuffield Council on Bioethics. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/project/genome-editing. Accessed 19 Jan 2017.
  48. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2017. How the Council works. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/about/how-council-works/. Accessed 2 Feb 2017.
  49. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. 2018. Our Funding. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/about/how-council-funded. Accessed 10 Sept 2018.
  50. Phillips, P., D. Castle., S. Smyth., H. Venema., M. McCandless, and C. Christensen. 2010. A Response to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics Consultation Paper: New Approaches to Biofuels, Saskatoon: University of Saskatchewan. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/Peter-Phillips-etal.pdf. Accessed 10 Sept 2018.
  51. Pielke, R. 2007. The honest broker: Making Sense of science in policy and politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sarewitz, D. 2015a. CRISPR: Science can’t solve it. Nature 522: 413–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sarewitz, D. 2015b. Reproducibility will not cure what ails science. Nature 525: 159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Schurman, R. 2004. Fighting “Frankenfoods”: Industry opportunity structures and the efficacy of the anti-biotech movement in Western Europe. Social Problems 51 (2): 243–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Shukla-Jones, A., S. Friedrichs., and D. Winickoff. 2018. Gene editing in an international context: Scientific, economic and social issues across sectors, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Working Papers, No. 2018/04. OECD iLibrary. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/industry-and-services/gene-editing-in-an-international-context_38a54acb-en. Accessed 13 Sept 2018.
  56. Smith, R. 2016. Constructing ‘the ethical’ in the development of biofuels. PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology and Social Policy. Nottingham, UK: University of Nottingham.Google Scholar
  57. Staeheli, L., D. Mitchel, and C. Nagel. 2009. Making publics, immigrants, regimes of publicity and entry to the ‘public’. Environment and Planning D 27: 633–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Support Precision Agriculture. 2016. Laureates Letter Supporting Precision Agriculture (GMOs). http://supportprecisionagriculture.org/nobel-laureate-gmo-letter_rjr.html. Accessed 23 Jan 2017.
  59. Tauxe, W. 2015. Q and A: Tim Lu. Cocktail maker. Nature 528 (7580): S14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Thompson, P.B. 2015. Agricultural ethics: Then and now. Agriculture and Human Values 32: 77–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Urnov, F.D., E.J. Rebar, M.C. Holmes, H.S. Zhang, and P.D. Gregory. 2010. Genome editing with engineered zinc finger nucleases. Nature Reviews Genetics 11 (9): 636–646.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. van Mil, A., H. Hopkins., and S. Kinsella. 2017. Potential uses for genetic technologies: dialogue and engagement research conducted on behalf of the Royal Society. London: Royal Society. https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/gene-tech/genetic-technologies-public-dialogue-hvm-full-report.pdf. Accessed 11 Sept 2018.
  63. Vanloqueren, G., and P.V. Baret. 2009. How agricultural research systems shape a technological regime that develops genetic engineering but locks out agroecological innovations. Research Policy 38 (6): 971–983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Washer, P. 2006. Representations of mad cow disease. Social Science and Medicine 62: 457–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Welsh, I., and B. Wynne. 2013. Science, scientism and imaginaries of publics in the UK: Passive objects, incipient threats. Science as Culture 22 (4): 540–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wickson, F., and B. Wynne. 2012. The anglerfish deception. EMBO Reports 13 (2): 100–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wynne, B., and F. Wickson. 2012. Reply to J.N. Perry et al. EMBO Reports 13 (6): 482–483.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of GeographyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  2. 2.University of Exeter Business SchoolUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  3. 3.Department of Sociological StudiesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK

Personalised recommendations