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PSX2 — Result In Brief

Project ID: 44594
Funded under: FP6-SOCIETY
Country: Italy

Citizens take on the biotech challenge

A recent move to bring civil society and the biotechnology industry together is building understanding and integrating input from Europe's citizens on divisive issues such as genetic engineering.
Citizens take on the biotech challenge
Often, society feels helpless about emerging controversial biotechnologies such as genetically modified plants and food, among other issues. The EU-funded PSX2 project sought to involve civil society in new scientific and technological developments related to this field.

Attempting to increase dialogue between society and the biotech industry, PSX2 established a platform for knowledge exchange and debate with civil society and related organisations. The project reached out to civil society organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders in Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The CSOs included farmers' unions, environmental organisations, social justice organisations and church organisations.

The project team conducted numerous interviews with stakeholders in order to generate new hypotheses. It then published a handbook titled 'Participation in science and scientific participation. The role of civil society organisations in decision-making about novel developments in biotechnologies'. This was based on findings from the interviews and related case studies.

PSX2 found that most CSOs were interested in dialogue yet didn't have the right tools or resources to initiate it. The interviews showed that CSOs wanted to reframe the relationship between science and society, especially since policies generally favour relationships between science and industry more, somewhat neglecting civil society. CSOs also called for re-examining the way science feeds innovation in order for the whole process to be fairer and more transparent.

As a result of these observations, the project called for engaging CSOs early on in the research process to strengthen their contribution in all other biotech stages and contexts. It highlighted that CSOs believe they are often denied opportunities for meaningful participation and that joint initiatives should be geared in this direction.

Civil society participation could actually help uncover flaws or challenges in the biotech industry before huge investments are made. It can also lead to more creative innovation. The project published a set of recommendations to improve CSO participation in the industry and ultimately bring a more holistic and comprehensive approach to this controversial yet important field.

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