Societal Debates on GM Photosynthesis Research

One of the aims of Towards BioSolar Cells (TBSC) is to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis by developing GMO’s. The societal debates about “green” GMO’s over the last 30 years have resulted in a negative attitude of the majority of the public towards GMO’s in agriculture and in a strict system of legislation and regulation within the EU and the Netherlands. This societal resistance is a serious challenge for the GM research in TBSC. In order to avoid a similar repetition of moves that lead to the stalemate in the earlier debates on GMO’s and to enable future debates on the re- engineered organisms of TBSC to be constructive and more productive, a new analysis and understanding of the arguments used seems a precondition. The project will be a success if it develops a comprehensive view on the mutual influence of new developments in GM photosynthesis research, and the arguments in the societal debates on GM to enable constructive future debates. Recommendations will be made to improve these debates. In this project we will deal in a serious and respectful way with the fact of value pluralism and the heterogeneity of views in debates by developing a comprehensive view. This will be done through a combination of desk- research and qualitative social research (e.g. semi-structured interviews, focus groups, workshops).

The project consists of four tasks:
1. exploration and preliminary identification of the issues in the societal debates using desk research, interviews and focus groups (“exploratory and inventory phase”);
2. analysis of the societal debates in comparison with the literature;
3. a critical, interactive assessment of the heterogeneity of arguments expressed in the debates, resulting in a comprehensive view (the interactive phase of “exchange and integration” using workshops), and
4. discussing our views and assessments with broader audiences as well as a listing of recommendations (“round-up phase”).

The work in this core project is performed at the Centre for Methodical Ethics & Technology Assessment of Wageningen UR.

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