Latest News

House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on genetic techniques for crop improvement recommends a substantive role for Sciencewise public dialogue

[Return to previous page]

The Select Committee's report is entitled 'Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution'. It is a reframing of the original enquiry called 'GM foods and application of the precautionary principle in Europe'. The report was published on 26 February 2015. The summary includes a final paragraph that reads:

"We recommend that the Government develop an information hub with the National Academies as a starting point for the public debate. This should link to debates led by Sciencewise whose function the Government must continue to support. Finally, we recommend the establishment of a permanent citizens council, based on the model used by NICE, to help it understand the potential social and ethical impacts of developments in novel crop technologies" (page 4)

The report includes a whole section on public information and discourse, which provides a brief history of public debate and GM, including the FSA dialogue project in 2009-10, which stalled. The Sciencewise review of past public dialogue exercises is cited in this section, as is  the Sciencewise internal evaluation report, and the evidence by Roland Jackson as Chair of Sciencewise. There is then a whole section on the role of Sciencewise, including the following (page 76):

"The Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir Mark Walport, stated that 'public funding of science engagement is important and, therefore, the programme that Sciencewise does is important'"

"George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, stated that Sciencewise played a part in 'promoting and building a public dialogue, a public discourse, a public understanding, and the feeding in of public views across policy making' and emphasised the importance of this activity."

This overall section then includes a number of specific recommendations for future work with Sciencewise:

•    "Public discourse should play a key role in informing policy concerning society’s use of science and technology and Sciencewise is central to ensuring that this is ingrained in the policy-making process. We recommend that the Government renew its support for Sciencewise and commit to stable or uplifted funding over the next five years." (p 77)

•    "We recommend that the Government work with the National Academies, in collaboration with Sciencewise, to develop a new online information ‘hub’ covering emerging topics in science and technology ... In the longer term, we envisage this resource becoming a centre for both public information and public debate; the starting point for a more active dialogue about developments in science and technology, especially those related to policy." (p 73)

•    "Public discourse should play a key role in informing policy concerning society’s use of science and technology and Sciencewise is central to ensuring that this is ingrained in the policy-making process. We recommend that the Government renew its support for Sciencewise and commit to stable or uplifted funding over the next five years." (p 77)

•    "We recommend that ACRE should, in its recommended expanded role, establish a permanent ‘Citizens Council’ based on the model developed by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. This new Council should be responsible for considering and providing advice on the potential social and ethical impacts of developments within ACRE’s remit. Sciencewise could ensure best practice in the framing and facilitation of debate as well as coordinating the work of all such citizen councils." (p 75) [ACRE- Advisory Committee on  Releases to the Environment]

•    "...by publicly insisting that decisions about this technology be made on the basis of scientific advice alone, the Government shuts down opportunities for wider debate and encourages those who are simply opposed to the technology to continue to contest the science. We recommend that both the Government and the Food Standards Agency review their public communications on genetic modification and related topics to ensure that these are framed in a way that encourages constructive public debate. Advice on this process should be sought from the Sciencewise expert resource centre and identified changes should be made by the end of 2015." ( 70)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmsctech/328/328.pdf