Third World Network  
About Us Contact Subscribe Sitemap Home
 
      
    » Advanced Search   
Biosafety Science
Agriculture / Organisms
Traits in Agriculture
Biomedical Applications
Assessment & Impacts
» Ecological
» Health
» Food Safety
» Socio-Economic
» Ethics & Culture
» Risk assessment
Trends in Industry
Global Agreements and Fora
Policy and Regulation
Key Regulatory Issues
Sustainable Systems
Biosafety Assessment Tool (BAT)
Biosafety
Information
Service
Meetings
Campaigns
Publications
 
Assessment & Impacts » Socio-Economic

Title: Empirical Research on the Socio-Economic Impacts of GM Crops Seriously Inadequate
Publication date: December 26, 2017
Posting date: December 26, 2017

THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
 

Dear Friends and Colleagues

Empirical Research on the Socio-Economic Impacts of GM Crops Seriously Inadequate

The importance of socio-economic impacts (SEI) from the introduction and use of genetically modified (GM) crops is reflected in increasing efforts to include them in regulatory frameworks. By 2015, more than 40 countries have included SEI in their biosafety legislation.

A new study defines SEI of GM crops as both the direct and indirect changes in social and economic conditions from the introduction of agricultural varieties of modern biotechnology and the corresponding technological packages (e.g. herbicides). It conducted a literature review of 410 articles. The review exposes limited empirical SEI research (particularly on social impacts) of GM crops for possible use in decision-making, and an imbalance in knowledge and framings used. This effectively defines the realities influenced by the introduction of GM crops according to few selective economic parameters.

The authors cite other serious shortcomings: the focus on short-term studies; lack of contextual analysis; the application of untested or unjustified assumptions and extrapolations; incomplete information on relevant research parameters; and, the use of conventional agriculture as the “universal” comparator, which masks other alternatives, both for research and policy. The most substantive, to them, is the economistic bias at the expense of more attention to social dimensions and effects.

The problems in the methodologies and in the corresponding reported results of the SEI literature on GM crops have biosafety political and policy implications. Among them is the dominant worldview that so-called “modern”, industrial and highly “technified” agriculture deserves exclusive promotion because it is taken as more productive than other agricultural systems. The review also finds that the large sample of the reviewed literature has systematically reported policy conclusions without enough properly qualified empirical data such as short-term decreases in herbicide-uses presented as constant over the long run.

The neglect of attention to social aspects of GM crops in SEI research, especially in the medium and long term, creates a crucial knowledge-gap for drawing reliable conclusions; understanding the systemic effects of GM crops on the food systems and related institutional dynamics; and, consequently, for the identification of alternatives.

Adequate SEI scientific practice related to GM crops will require acknowledging the limitations of single-discipline economic, econometric and related methods, and—even when social dimensions are investigated—the short term quality of most current research. Broader questions and improved methodologies, assisted by more rigorous peer-review, will be required to overcome current research shortcomings. To advance towards more realistic in-context trajectory evaluations, the authors recommend overcoming the inconsistency of appraising long-term global development goals (e.g. hunger- and poverty-reduction) by using only short-term studies. Addressing these questions will also require public and open deliberations with a broader range of informed policy actors and stakeholders than has hitherto prevailed.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
Malaysia
Email: twn@twnetwork.org
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
To subscribe to other TWN information services: www.twnnews.net

____________________________________________________________________________

SOCIO-ECONOMIC RESEARCH ON GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS: A STUDY OF THE LITERATURE

Georgina Catacora-Vargas, Rosa Binimelis, Anne I. Myhr and Brian Wynne
Springer Netherlands
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-017-9842-4
9 Dec 2017

http://rdcu.be/AQHz

Abstract

The importance of socio-economic impacts (SEI) from the introduction and use of genetically modified (GM) crops is reflected in increasing efforts to include them in regulatory frameworks. Aiming to identify and understand the present knowledge on SEI of GM crops, we here report the findings from an extensive study of the published international scientific peer-reviewed literature. After applying specified selection criteria, a total of 410 articles are analysed. The main findings include: (i) limited empirical research on SEI of GM crops in the scientific literature; (ii) the main focus of the majority of the published research is on a restricted set of monetary economic parameters; (iii) proportionally, there are very few empirical studies on social and non-monetary economic aspects; (iv) most of the research reports only short-term findings; (v) the variable local contexts and conditions are generally ignored in research methodology and analysis; (vi) conventional agriculture is the commonly used comparator, with minimal consideration of other substantially different agricultural systems; and (vii) there is the overall tendency to frame the research upon not validated theoretical assumptions, and to over-extrapolate small-scale and short-term specific results to generalized conclusions. These findings point to a lack of empirical and comprehensive research on SEI of GM crops for possible use in decision-making. Broader questions and improved methodologies, assisted by more rigorous peer-review, will be required to overcome current research shortcomings.

Conclusions

Our review exposes limited empirical SEI research (particularly on social impacts) of GM crops, and an imbalance in knowledge and framings used. This effectively defines the realities influenced by the introduction of GM crops according to few selective economic parameters. Other shortcomings are the focus on short-term studies; lack of contextual analysis; the application of untested or unjustified assumptions and extrapolations; incomplete information on relevant research parameters; and, the use of conventional agriculture as the “universal” comparator, which masks other alternatives, both for research and policy. Hence, although there are some critical studies that assess more broadly defined SEI of GM crops, the mainstream literature is methodologically predetermined to favour agricultural innovations designed on neo-classical economic principles and to reproduce largescale industrial agriculture systems linked to external markets. Thus, excluding agricultural and food alternatives that involve a wider spectrum of considerations than monetary economics alone.

The limitations identified force us to reflect on what the existing literature cannot tell us, with the aim to offer some warning against over-reliance on the current mainstream SEI scientific literature in further research and for policy-making. While many of these SEI literature deficiencies may be justified by inadequate research resources (including funding and timeframes) allocated to such studies (NRC 2010), this does not excuse the methodological limitations described above, nor the presumption of extrapolation from particular conditions to general projections. Probably the most substantive shortcoming is the economistic bias at the expense of more attention to social dimensions and effects (Fischer et al. 2015; Smale et al. 2009). This deficiency is worth paying attention to considering that technical innovations, apart from being economic, are always also social (Thomas et al. 2008), even if this is neglected by the continuing prevalent demand for exclusively quantitative measures for describing reality.

The neglect of attention to social aspects of GM crops in the SEI research, especially in the medium and long term, creates a crucial knowledge-gap for drawing reliable conclusions; understanding the systemic effects of GM crops on the food systems and related institutional dynamics; and, consequently, for the identification of alternatives. This is particularly relevant when the more authoritative quantitative “scientific” form is achieved by standardisation and aggregation, and by negating substantive and observable non-quantified factors (mostly social and cultural) that defy such manipulation (Glover 2010a). This selectivity is a typically neglected normative dimension of what are assumed to be the objects of scientific attention. This in turn facilitates a mono-disciplinary epistemic culture, where the excessive extrapolations of empirical quantitative findings from limited sites, conditions and time-periods are made mistakenly to stand as universal realities.

The above is connected with the dominance and limitations of a case-by-case approach for assessing impacts in general. While this is a necessary part of overall SEI research, just as for GM ecological risk assessment, it is not alone an adequate approach, since single cases cannot cover interactive, multiple or cumulative impacts. For these, trajectory-type analyses are necessary (Pavone et al. 2011), in addition to or integrated with case-by-case studies.

The problems in the methodologies and in the corresponding reported results of the SEI literature on GM crops have biosafety political and policy implications. Among them is the ubiquitous ontological as well as epistemic a priori bias in the dominant agri-food and rural development model, which assumes that so-called “modern”, industrial and highly “technified” agriculture deserves exclusive promotion because it is taken as more productive than other agricultural systems (WEF 2012). Even though this dominant worldview has been critically assessed (e.g. Hobart 1993; Scott 1998), its overriding influence persists, in part due to the related demand from policy, commercial and academic hierarchies for quantitative and universalist data. Accordingly, the concentration of SEI research on only certain types of GM crops and impacts together with the overestimation of their possible benefits, decreases the possibility of identifying, testing and potentially strengthening alternative socio-technical pathways for agriculture and the food systems (Stirling 1999; Vanloqueren and Baret 2009). The biases we identify in dominant forms of SEI research also tacitly promote a corresponding policy and political-economic bias.

Unavoidably, these final remarks raise the biosafety normative questions that have been buried in the papers reviewed, because this literature often includes such normative choices and commitments without explicitly acknowledging them. In a policy system rightly aspiring to be informed by reason and evidence, such commitments cannot be legitimate unless transparently disclosed, tested and debated. Thus, scientific peer-review production requires that authors recognise and make explicit their normative assumptions, and leave them open to deliberation and further research. Above all, we argue that the large sample of existing peer-reviewed literature on SEI research for GM crops has systematically reported policy conclusions without enough properly qualified empirical data. This becomes evident from specific examples as: normative recommendations based on short-term increases in yield extrapolated to identical long-term conclusions; short-term decreases in herbicide-uses presented as constant over the long run; reduction of labour equated automatically to lasting reduction in costs analysed from the economic benefit lens without considering the inherent social costs; the commercial monopoly over seeds portrayed as economic competitiveness only, without careful attention to the associated contractual dependencies and the surrounding political economy.

Adequate SEI scientific practice related to GM crops will require acknowledging the limitations of single-discipline economic, econometric and related methods, and—even when social dimensions are investigated—the short term quality of most current research. To advance on this, towards more realistic in-context trajectory evaluations (Ely et al. 2014; Herrero et al. 2015; Leach et al. 2010; Pavone et al. 2011) a key step would be to overcome the inconsistency of appraising long-term global development goals (e.g. hunger- and poverty-reduction) by using only short-term studies (Ervin et al. 2011). By doing this, SEI research, publication and debate will develop more legitimate authority for itself, contributing also to identifying and answering further biosafety policy-relevant research questions, such as “what are the real social and economic effects of GM crop-adoption?” “on which groups and in which ways?”, “under which local conditions?”, “for how long time?”, “who gets excluded and why?”, “what are the indirect social and environmental costs?”, and perhaps most crucially, “could GM crops bring real, sustained social benefits if governed and developed under a different political economy?” Addressing these questions will also require public and open deliberations with a broader range of informed policy actors and stakeholders than has hitherto prevailed.


 Printer friendly version
 

 
| Home | About Us | Subscribe | Contact | Sitemap |
Disclaimer | Privacy
Copyright © 2004 - 2018 Biosafety Information Centre    All Rights Reserved