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House of Lords Committee inquiry on GM insects proposes public dialogue as result of Sciencewise evidence

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On 17 December 2015 the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee launched its report on ‘Genetically Modified Insects’. Sciencewise gave evidence to the Committee, and the Committee’s report reflects the influence of that evidence.

Roland Jackson’s evidence is cited in para 132 and paras 151-152 (stressing the lack of engagement of the public to date on GM insects specifically). Sciencewise advice is also cited in considering how to determine what, when and with whom public engagement may need to be done, including clarity about the objective of any public engagement initiative.

In para 165 – 166, the Committee suggests that “An open, honest and transparent approach is the best means to develop productive and meaningful engagement”, and recognises the need for an honest broker. The Committee goes on to suggest that “One potential candidate for such a role may be Sciencewise.”

In para 167, the Committee concludes that:

“We consider that GM insect technologies an appropriate topic for public dialogue due to both their complexity and potential for controversy.”

In terms of timing for any such dialogue, the Committee was less clear, but concludes (para 168) that “If the debate is not started at a sufficiently early stage, then there is the risk that uninformed, polarised views may become entrenched before the debate has barely begun. Clearly, however, people may think it curious to be asked to participate in a debate about technological developments and resulting opportunities which do not feel at least reasonably imminent.”

The Committee report conclusions stress the importance of public dialogue on GM insects:

“170. We envisage that appropriate public engagement strategies will have a critical role to play in the development and progression of GM insect technologies. Engagement with the public, both in the UK and
Overseas, particularly in countries where insect-borne disease is rife, will be required. It is vital that the evolution of an inflamed debate like that which has enveloped GM crop technologies in the UK and across the EU is avoided.

171. The nature of an engagement initiative and its framing is vitally important. Setting GM insect technologies in the context of the issues and problems they are designed to address is crucial. We envisage
that a public dialogue approach would be most appropriate.

172. While we recognise the value in early-stage intervention, we are concerned that undertaking a large scale public dialogue in the UK when an application for a GM insect trial is not in train—either at a national or EU level—may prevent the full impact of such an exercise being achieved.

173. We therefore recommend that a concomitant public dialogue exercise be a component of the UK-based GM insect trial we advocate in Chapter 4. This exercise should be framed around the context of the technologies and separate the public health uses of GM insects from agricultural applications. It should also allow for public input into the process of the trial and regulatory exploration. The Government should draw on the expertise of a suitably qualified organisation in order to develop this initiative.

174. Furthermore, as a long-term aim, we recommend that the Government, via a suitably qualified organisation, monitors the development of GM insect technologies and acts to initiate a broad programme of public dialogue when these technologies are deemed to be nearer to commercialisation.