Governing conflicts over sustainability: agricultural biotechnology in Europe

Levidow, Les (2005). Governing conflicts over sustainability: agricultural biotechnology in Europe. In: Higgins, Vaughan and Lawrence, Geoffrey eds. Agricultural governance: globalization and the new politics of regulation. Routledge advances in sociology. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 98–117.



[The article had no abstract, so the following text is based on the Conclusion.]
The term 'sustainability' has been appropriated by political forces supporting and opposing agbiotech, especially in Europe. Such conflicts express divergent views of sustainable agriculture, which can be analysed through a tripartite taxonomy. From a neoliberal view, GM crops offer as eco-efficient solutions to the supposed problem of inefficient agri-inputs, thus potentially intensifying market competition for agri-food products. From a community view opposing GM crops, more extensive crop-protection methods would protect agro-environmental resources as a common good, while 'quality' production would directly link producers with consumers. Such alternatives were counterposed as benign alternatives and as more stringent comparators for evaluating GM crops. In this taxonomy, each view diagnoses problems so as to favour its own concept of what to sustain – for example, different forms of the economy, environment, and society. Each also has different priorities for expertise.
In response to public protest and a legitimacy crisis, the EU's early regulatory model of technocratic harmonization gave way to diverse national frameworks for valuing the agricultural environment. Those changes also involved processes of governing, expressing the need to 'restore public and market confidence' as a collective action-problem. Partly with that rationale, official experts acknowledged more scientific uncertainties and potential effects that may warrant regulatory controls. New procedures involved various groups sceptical of agbiotech. Some national procedures broadened their expert advisory bodies, sought means to involve stakeholder groups and established more consultation procedures. This basis for governing had a relatively greater scope to accommodate dissent and so mediate the conflict, though within limits.

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