Science controversies and public policy: a case study of genetically engineered food
Whidden, Rachel E.L.
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Public cynicism toward the government's capacity to regulate in the public interest is apparent. Therefore garnering support for certain policies can be difficult, especially where a scientific controversy emerges. Scientific and technological innovations bring about social change which generally results in public resistance. The purpose of this thesis is to illuminate the difficulties of using science to formulate policy in an area of controversy, the example used is that of genetically engineered (GE) food. This thesis is divided into three sections. The first is an analysis of the positions taken by four interest groups with regard to key issues associated with the regulation of GE food. The arguments advanced have a common tie: that the scientific risk assessment process used to licence GE crops is insufficient because it precludes socio-economic considerations. The second section is devoted to the question of whether the federal government allowed the controversy to develop by adopting a promotional approach toward the technology and neglecting to take into account how the public's understanding of science differs from that of scientists. The last section is an analysis of the final reports issued by three committees mandated by the federal government to study different aspects of the regulation of GE food. The argument presented is that the three committees were given limited mandates which precluded other important considerations from the final reports. The thesis concludes by accepting that there are no clear methods of securing public approval but that the government has compromised its neutrality and the credibility of the licensing approval process by relying on positivist and promotional approaches toward the technology.