As a process to synthesize science and characterize potential ecological risks to inform decision making, ecological risk assessment (ERA) influences how the potential for harm is studied and is foundational to national and international decision making on genetically modified organisms and other technologies. Existing literature has argued that ERA is built on values-based judgments that should be subject to critical scrutiny, and that conflicts about risk are influenced by competing understandings of what constitutes ecological harm, beneficial technology, desirable scientific research. However, there has been a lack of empirical work that explores the implications of these insights. As a contribution to this work, I use interviews, document analysis and participant observation to explore three case studies involving plant genetic engineering and the contestation of risk. The first case study examines the differences between two competing ERA guidelines for assessing the impacts of genetically modified plants on non-target organisms. Findings include that the guidelines proposed consequentially different processes for the study of potential risks as a result of divergent judgments about hazard identification, substantial equivalence, species selection, and indirect effects. The second case study explores how expert stakeholders envision future environmental regulation for plants produced by novel, targeted genetic modification techniques. Their views varied based on different underlying assumptions associated with what constitutes environmental risk and the adequacy of existing regulations. For the third case study, I participated in and studied a collaborative committee that, in response to issues concerning wild rice and the potential for its genetic engineering, is engaged in an anticipatory process to influence scientific research policy at the University of Minnesota. I found that the committee pursued the inclusion of Native American worldviews into wild rice scientific research by using a conceptual framework of "bridging worldviews" that made explicit how wild rice research is based upon contestable assumptions about risk, science, and the desired state of the environment. Across three diverse case studies, this research demonstrates the importance of interrogating the values-based judgments and assumptions that underlie ERA and decision making processes for genetically modified plants and environmental issues more broadly.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. October 2014. Major: Natural Resources Science and Management. Advisor: Kristen C. Nelson, PhD. 1 computer file (PDF); xii, 178 pages, appendices A-D.
Kokotovich, Adam Eli.
Contesting risk: science, governance and the future of plant genetic engineering.
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