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Glossed over: Government’s gene-editing report ‘ignored weight of public opinion’

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An official Defra report on last year’s Government public consultation on genetic technologies “ignored the weight of public option” and applied “prejudicial treatment” to submissions from campaign groups, “culling” over half of the total responses to the consultation.

That’s the claim made in an “alternative analysis” of the consultation by the Bigger Conversation initiative, a project run by UK NGO Beyond GM

Filling in the Blanks: What Defra Didn’t Say shows that even after Defra had removed what it called “campaign responses” (52% of the total number of submissions to the consultation) from its official analysis “85% of respondents were opposed to deregulation (of genetic technologies)”. 

Glossed over 
Bigger Conversation says that “in its rush to deliver on the government’s regulatory agenda, Defra has missed, glossed over or simply failed to understand key points and thoughtful arguments being made by those groups and individuals who responded to the public consultation”. 

The new analysis, based on published consultation responses and others made available to A Bigger Conversation, is said to reveal a more thoughtful and qualified analysis of the gene editing issue than the Defra analysis acknowledges. It accuses Defra of “failing to take account of public opinion” and of analysis that was  “inadequate and divisive”. 

A Bigger Conversation suggests that the “surprising amount of agreement (on the issue of gene editing regulation) between usually opposing sides” and “acknowledgement of complexity and uncertainty” is inconvenient for a Government apparently determined to press ahead with deregulation of new gene editing technology. 

Choosing to get it wrong? 
Pat Thomas, director of A Bigger Conversation, claims Defra is “prioritising the views of a very narrow group of stakeholders…to deliver a predetermined outcome”. 

“If Defra is ignoring all this, in a rush to deregulate, it is doing so by choice. We have to ask: What is the reason for that choice? Whom does it benefit?”

She says: “Our discussions throughout 2021 suggested that people and organisations on all sides were frustrated with what was, in the end, a messy consultation process and a token analysis of the nearly 6500 submissions received by Defra.”

“As we read through the submissions, it was clear that there was more nuance, more acknowledgement of complexity and uncertainty and even a surprising amount of agreement between usually opposing sides. There is a huge amount of insight and expertise available from all sides, and there is the sheer weight of public opinion to take into account. If Defra is ignoring all this, in a rush to deregulate, it is doing so by choice. We have to ask: What is the reason for that choice? Whom does it benefit?”

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