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Research Projects

Precautionary Expertise for GM Crops (PEG)

Grant holder: Prof. David Wield. Research: Susan Carr, Les Levidow, Sue Oreszczyn. Project coordinated by the Open University, with research partners in 7 EU member states.

Funded by the European Commission, DG-Research, Quality of Life programme, socio-economic aspects, during 2002-2004. Budget: 549k euro (OU budget 223k euro)

Focus: Regulatory processes and expertise for genetically modified (GM) crops in the European Union.

Research question: How do current regulatory practices across Europe compare with different accounts of the precautionary principle? In particular:

1. how do regulatory measures draw practical links between risk research, risk assessment and risk management;

2. how do expert bodies mediate between regulatory science and public-scientific controversy; and

3. how do stakeholder groups attempt to influence regulatory processes?

Further information is available from the project secretary, by emailing technology-bpg@open.ac.uk


Trading Up Environmental Standards? Trans-Atlantic Governance of GM Crops

Grant holders: Prof. David Wield, Susan Carr, Simon Bromley, Les Levidow. Research: Joseph Murphy, Les Levidow. Funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), during 2002-2003. Budget: £110k

Focus: prospects for 'trading up' environmental standards, i.e., for raising standards as a result of trans-Atlantic regulatory conflicts, in the case of GM crops.

Question: how standard-setting is influenced through three institutional processes of trans-Atlantic governance - trade agreements, EU-US networks, and precautionary measures. In particular:

1. the role, interpretation and inter-relation of the relevant trade agreements (EC Deliberate Release Directive, Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and WTO);

2. interactions among policy, expert and stakeholder networks as they address the trade-environmental issues; and

3. the wider role of precautionary measures devised by governments and/or companies.



Science in Trade Disputes Related to Potential Risks: Comparative Case Studies


Project coordinator: Erik Millstone, Science Policy Research Unit, Univ. of Sussex. Funded by the European Science & Technology Observatory (ESTO), with support from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission, in 2001, total budget 73k euro. OU grant holder: Prof. David Wield. Research: Les Levidow. OU budget: 8k euro

Focus: the use of scientific research as evidence for risk assessment in policy making, particularly in the context of the multilateral trading system. Geopolitical scope: EU, UK, France, Austria, USA and WTO

Question: the scientific basis of risk assessment for products which generate conflicts between the USA and European Union. In particular:

1. what is deemed to constitute an adequate and appropriate risk assessment;

2. what scientific evidence is deemed adequate and relevant for claims about risk or safety; and

3. what is deemed an appropriate basis for the Precautionary Principle to be invoked.


Test of a Framework for Presenting Value-based Concerns about GM Crops in a Policy-relevant Format

Grant holder: Susan Carr. Research: Susan Carr, Sue Oreszczyn. Funding: Open University Technology Faculty, during 2001. Budget: £3k

Focus: Use of critical systems heuristics to explore differences in people's boundary judgements about biotechnology and its regulation. The initial test is being done with the help of members of the UK's Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission.

Test of a systemic framework for incorporating ethics and values into biotechnology policy decisions

Critical Systems Heuristics: a tool for the inclusion of ethics and values in complex policy decisions


'Policy Influences on Technology for Agriculture (PITA): Chemicals, Biotechnology and Seeds'

Grant holder: Dave Wield. Researchers: Susan Carr, Joanna Chataway, Les Levidow.
Project coordinated by the OU, with Prof. Joyce Tait at University of Edinburgh and Visiting Professor, Open University, and.with 8 research partners in 5 European countries.
Project funded by the European Commission, TSER programme, during 1998-2000.
Total budget: 838k ECU coordinated by OU.

Focus: To contribute to the development of sustainable industrial and farming systems and an improved quality of life by encouraging the development and update of cleaner technology for intensive agriculture. This project will analyse policy and market-related factors affecting technological innovation in agrichemicals, biotechnology and seeds industries; study the influence of those factors on innovation strategies in those industries and in Public Sector Research Establishments; and study the outcomes of those strategies on employment, international competitiveness and potential to deliver environmental benefits.

Question: What existing or potential policies would best move European agriculture in a more environmentally-friendly direction.


'Safety Regulation of Transgenic Crops (SRTC): Completing the Internal Market?'

Grant holder: Prof. Dave Wield. Project Co-ordinator: Susan Carr. Research Fellow: Les Levidow.
Project coordinated by the OU, with research partners in 9 other European countries.
Project funded by the European Commission, DG XII/E5, under the Ethical, Legal and Socio-economic Aspects (ELSA) of the Biotechnology Programme, 1997-99.
Total budget: 140k ECU, including 96k ECU for the OU internal budget.

Focus: Efforts at overcoming internal trade-barriers for the commercial use of genetically modified crops and food within the EU. Question: How the regulatory procedures (for crops, food and pesticides) may serve to facilitate or impede an EU-wide internal market. In particular, how they

  • handle uncertainties over agricultural, environmental and health effects;
  • accommodate public and scientific concerns, while informing the public debate;
  • generate and use new data on biosafety; and
  • define the relevant expertise for decision-making.


'Issues in financing small biotechnology firms'

Grant holder: Joanna Chataway.
OU is partner in EU-wide collaborative project funded by the European Commission, DG XII during 1998-99. OU part of the budget is 10k ECU. The other partners in the project are Gerald Assouline from a consultancy firm called QAP Decision in France and Jean Cornier from a German consultancy firm called INTOSPACE.

Focus: To look at some of the constraints facing small biotechnology firms in Germany France and the UK. Establishing and maintaining a healthy, well focused and responsive research programme does not guarantee successful innovation and new product development. For research results to become innovative and useful products and services, multiple economic, social and financial transactions need to be established. Industry participation, particularly amongst small biotechnology firms continues to be limited in the case of the EU's BIOTECHNOLOGY Programme. One of the major obstacles in small firm's ability to innovate on the basis of research results is thought to be lack of finance. The project will involve interviews with dedicated biotechnology firms, venture capital firms and other providers of financial assistance to small innovative start-up firms.

Question: To think through ways in which a perceived 'gap' between the needs of start-up firms and potential financial backers can be bridged.


'GMO Releases: Managing Uncertainty about Biosafety',

Grant holder: David Wield. Research Fellow: Les Levidow, with Susan Carr.
Project funded by European Commission, DGXII/E-1, ELSA Biotechnology horizontal programme, during 1994-95.
Project coordinated by the OU, with research partners in 8 other European countries.
Total budget: 79k ECU coordinated by OU.

Focus: Efforts at harmonising regulatory criteria for GMO releases throughout the European Union, by investigating and comparing the institutional processes of implementing the Deliberate Release Directive 90/220 in nine EC countries.

Question: How the EU-level harmonisation difficulties arise from conflicting accounts of the relevant uncertainties.


'From Precautionary to Risk-Based Regulation; the Case of GMO Releases'

Grant holders: David Wield and Susan Carr. Research Fellow: Les Levidow.
Funding source: (ESRC), Risk and Human Behaviour Programme, grant £72K, during 1995-1996.

Focus: Britain's safety regulatory system for GMO releases, within its European Union framework, as compared to the USA.

Question: How the precautionary content is changed by the shift to 'risk-based' proceedures.


Farmers’ Understandings of GM Crops within Local Communities

Funded by the ESRC Science in Society Programme

New farming technologies raise social issues as well as scientific, agronomic and ecological ones. This is especially so in the case of contentious technologies such as genetically-modified (GM) crops. While much is now known about the public’s view of GM crops, there has been little research into what farmers think.

Further details


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