Innovation and GM: managing risk and supporting UK Life Sciences
- 21 November 2014
This week the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Walport, released his first annual report: Innovation: Managing Risk, Not Avoiding It, looking at approaches to risk and uncertainty in the context of innovation.
The report explores how the framing of evidence and risk is crucial to 'further, faster and more robust' policy making. Sir Mark said, 'Innovation is essential for economic growth, health, wellbeing, security and resilience.' He advises that ‘we should be careful of the ‘Pandora’s box’ argument, which is that a new technology may lead to an unforeseen series of consequences that may pose existential risks to the human race’ and instead, be clear and specific about the applications of a new innovation and potential risk, in both questions and communication.
The report echoes the evidence Sir Mark gave to the Science and Technology Select Committee (STC) on Wednesday, regarding genetically modified (GM) foods and application of the precautionary principle in Europe. He suggested that the EU ban on GM crops may cause more harm than good; 'The consequence of inactions are that we are potentially, particularly in Europe, denying access to technologies that actually will potentially help feed people in ways that damage the environment less.'
Dr Mark Downs FSB, chief executive of the Society of Biology, responded in agreement:
'As Walport said, "the science is very clear"; there is considerable evidence and agreement among scientists that GM poses no known inherent risks to human or animal health or to the environment. As the mounting body of evidence demonstrates that uncertainty no longer prevails, re-evaluation of measures are both needed and appropriate. Application of the precautionary principle should no longer be a barrier to appropriate use of this technology.'
Adding, 'It makes more sense to assess crops based on their individual characteristics and the farming practices that accompany them, rather than the method by which they were produced.'
Also this week, Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman, announced success for the life sciences; the industry has agreed over £3.5bn of investment in the UK which is expected to create over 11,000 new jobs, since the launch of the Strategy for UK Life Sciences in December 2011. In addition, he announced a package of £63m of new investment in the industry.