The recent Agricultural Biotechnology Conference has been held for a number of years and has started to expand its presentations into other biotech perspectives such as forestry, energy, industrial considerations and others.
There usually isn’t much controversy at these events, being much of it is preaching to the choir.
What there is at times is a growing sense of exasperation at the slow rate of development considering the approaching overwhelming spectre of feeding almost 9 billion people — that’s double what it was just a few years ago.
Although it would seem that development itself is not the issue, it’s the regulatory mechanism that is in place that slows down the process that is causing the aggravation.
That’s to be expected from those that invest millions in development, but time delays of 10 years and more seems rather excessive to get approvals.
It would seem to be to society’s benefit to find ways and means to speed up the process. However, a new bug in the ointment might well preclude any time-lag improvement.
What has added to the slowdown in the process is a whole new hurdle that was unheard of not too long ago.
It’s called “social licence” and it’s become the new buzzword being used with almost any issue that might impact any change to human development — which seems to be everything.
Social licence was the undertone to this conference and the words were all too often mentioned in many presentations. The definition of social licence is rather loose and subject to different interpretations, depending on which side of the issue you stand. The assumption is that it refers to public approval of whatever new research or development is being considered or being done.
That’s about where any agreement on the definition ends, because it’s “the who is issuing the licence” that becomes the bone of contention. When it comes to scientists, researchers and industry, the understanding is that public approval means government regulators and self-imposed standards. To lobby groups that oppose whatever those folks are doing, that’s not good enough anymore, but their version of social licence seems to more nebulous.
There is no central entity that they can point to as the issuer of social licences that drives the research community to further exasperation.
Most suspect that lobby groups really mean that they will be the issuer of any social licence. They hide that self-appointed role under the guise of protecting the interests of the people against the ominous unknowns of some nefarious technology.
In the past, these groups tried to promote that anti-technology perspective, calling it the “precautionary principle.”
It would seem they now have a new stick to pursue that angle — and it’s working. I expect much of the public expects the government to protect their interests when it comes to technology development, being that’s what they elect politicians to do.
But the public seems to be easily spooked by GE technology fearmongering in the media.
That in turn sees politicians sniffing the political winds and causing the regulatory to go slow on regulation and approval.
One didn’t detect at the conference that there was any specific plan to gain a social licence, except that it was needed.
There was a consensus that education was the medium, but the problem is where to start and what approach to take. It all seems like a moving target that would be frustrating to those that see the common sense and science in technology.
No doubt public relation consultants will be making millions providing advice on how to deal with “social licence” to every organization, research agency or corporation on the continent.
One is tempted to set up a social licence certification agency where anyone paying a fee, of course, could obtain a framed licence complete with a prominent usable logo that stated the agency, researcher or cause, that after meeting certain criteria, had an official Social Licence number and therefore could go ahead with their business.
Considering the history of certifying foods and activities for any number of dubious reasons or intentions, I fully expect lobby groups are thinking about just such a social licence idea.
Stay tuned … and remember that you heard it here first.