Plant biotechnology in Ireland: Understanding the factors that shape plant biotechnology risk management policy in Ireland
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Plant science is critical for humankind as plants form the fundamental basis of society (i.e. food and fibre). Plant biotechnology has been identified as a key research area by the Irish Government, but this research also raises concerns regarding possible risks. As a result, understanding the factors that shape plant biotechnology risk management policy in Ireland is essential to the development of associated policy and regulatory frameworks. The project first explores the background to plant biotechnology and genetic modification (GM). Subsequently, GM policy in Ireland (from 1974 to date) and the European Union (from 1973 to date) is examined and mapped. Key policy periods are identified and investigated. A longitudinal analysis of Irish public attitudes to modern biotechnology from 1996 to 2010 follows. Using both quantitative and qualitative tools, key groups (i.e. university based life scientists and the feed industry) in the innovation value chain are surveyed as to their attitudes regarding modern plant biotechnology. In addition, a content analysis of Irish daily newsprint media articles from 2007 to 2010 is carried out to identify coverage intensity, actors, framing and tone of GM articles. The project also compares the potential ex-ante environmental and agronomic impacts of GM glyphosate tolerant maize cultivation with current Irish maize production as maize provides an important source of animal feed to Irish farmers. The various elements of this project are used to test the hypothesis that the development of Irish plant biotechnology policy corresponds with the punctuated equilibrium theory of policy change. It is indeed demonstrated that in the case of Ireland, punctuated equilibrium is at play, expressed by long periods of stability, punctuated by sudden shifts that are characterized by radical change (mainly driven by political considerations). Based on lessons learned and characteristics that apply when punctuated-type dynamics exist within a policy arena, recommendations are made regarding the future development of policy. These include a more appropriate policy approach that focuses on a comparative analysis of the risks and benefits of a plant trait, rather than on the process by which this trait was obtained, and that assesses risks and benefits in the context of current products and practices.