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GMOs and the law

All contained uses must be assessed for risk to humans and those involving GMMs assessed for risk to the environment require competence advice to be obtained on the risk assessment before the contained use can start introduce a classification system based on the risk of the contained use independent of the purpose of the contained use. The classification is based on the four levels of containment for microbial laboratories require notification of all premises to HSE before they are used for contained use for the first time require notification of individual contained uses of class 2 low risk to class 4 high risk to be notified to the competent authority which HSE administers.

Consents are issued for all class 3 medium risk and class 4 high risk contained uses. Class 1 no or negligible risk contained uses are non notifiable, although they are open to scrutiny by HSE's specialist inspectors who enforce the Regulations. Contained use involving larger GMOs which are more hazardous to humans than the parental non-modified organism also require notification require fees payable for the notification of premises for first time use, class 2, 3 and 4 contained use notifications, and notified contained use involving larger GMOs require the maintenance of a public register of premises undertaking genetic modification and certain contained uses There are also other pieces of health and safety legislation that are relevant to work with GMOs.

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Are GMOs Good or Bad? Genetic Engineering & Our Food

Chapter 6. He lectured on agricultural botany there between and He was seconded to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in where he taught, and learnt tropical agricultural botany and studied the epidemiology of groundnut rosette disease. By watching aphids land on groundnut plants he gained an understanding of the edge effect of spread of virus into the field. In he spent a sabbatical year with Bob Shepherd in the University of California, Davis where he worked on the characterization of cauliflower mosaic virus.

There he was introduced to the early stages of molecular biology which changed the direction of his research. On returning to the John Innes Institute he applied a molecular biological approach to the study of cauliflower mosaic virus elucidating that it replicated by reverse transcription, the first plant virus being shown to do so.

Involvement with the Rockefeller Rice Biotechnology Program reawakened his interest in tropical agricultural problems and he led a large group studying the viruses of the rice tungro disease complex. He also promoted the use of transgenic technology to the control of virus diseases and was in the forefront in discussing biosafety issues associated with this approach. Moving from rice to bananas plantains his group was among those who discovered that the genome of banana streak badnavirus was integrated into the host genome and in certain cultivars was activated to give episomal infection — another first for plant viruses.

He retired at the statutory age in He is an Emeritus Fellow at the John Innes Centre where he continued research on banana streak virus for five or more years after retirement. He has published over peer-reviewed papers on plant virology, many reviews and four books including the previous edition of Plant Virology and Comparative Plant Virology.

In retirement Roger Hull became involved in promoting the uptake of transgenic technology by developing countries as one approach to alleviating food insecurity. He is on the International faculty of e-learning diploma course training decision makers, mainly in developing countries, in plant biotechnology regulation.

His other interests are gardening, bird watching, travelling and his children and grandchildren. We are always looking for ways to improve customer experience on Elsevier. We would like to ask you for a moment of your time to fill in a short questionnaire, at the end of your visit. We attribute intentionality to corporations and countries all the time. Sometimes we attribute it to animals.

We do not attribute it too often to plants and trees, and we certainly do not attribute it to mountains and ecosystems; it just does not make sense to say that that a tree risked its livelihood by growing in a particular place. That starts to sound like anthropomorphism. So there is an important part of the grammar of risk that picks out actions that are performed by intentional agents. I am suggesting that, in the spirit of the kind of heuristics work that has been done by Tversky and Kahnemann and Slovic, we should understand this other sense of risk, what I call the act classifying the sense of risk, as a kind of heuristic.

When we use the word risk in these contexts, we are picking out a class of actions.

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We are picking out a class of things that either people or organizations do. Under this definition, risks are actions that call for some sort of special consideration.

Next I want to discuss heuristics as a kind of cognitive filtering. When we call something a risk, we are saying that this deserves more consideration. We need to give it some thought. We need to do something with respect to it. And when we do not call something a risk, when we do not call it risky, we just go ahead and do it. These would be fairly routine, ordinary, habitual things that pass through the cognitive filter without detection.

This cognitive filter may be culturally based or psychologically based. It is a way of telling us when to dedicate more resources, in the sense of time, energy, intellectual activity, or socially in terms of money to obtain information, write reports, or have committee meetings. It is a filter that tells us when it is important to do that and when it is not important to do that, because we tend to rely on habit, routine, or ordinary activities.

There is a link between the intentionality and the cognitive filtering function because at least historically, but maybe not anymore, there has been very little point to devoting special attention to things that we cannot do anything about. So we look at actions that, if we did something else, then things would be different, or if I did something else, I might avoid a certain type of harm.

We do not lump generic natural hazards, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and so on into that "could have acted otherwise" category. So there is a sense in which, in this way of thinking about risk, things such as freak accidents and acts of God—and as well a background of hazards that characterize all of our daily activities—are not considered to be risks. Clearly accidents have some probability of harm associated with them, but they are not picked out by the cognitive filter that is associated with the word risk in an ordinary context.

I want to make a final point.


Many times when people say that there is no risk associated with something, scientists interpret that as meaning that there is zero probability of harm. However, few people believe that there is zero.

Genetically Modified Plants

But what is going on is that when someone makes a claim that "there is no risk," they are saying that it is something that has not made it through their cognitive filter. It is something that we do not devote any special attention to.

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We just keep doing what we have always been doing. So there is a tension that arises between the way that the scientific risk assessment scientists talk about risk and this other notion of risk that is still very much alive in public discourse. Note that intention is irrelevant to the probability and harm conception of risk. Yet it is highly relevant to the cognitive filtering sense of risk. When we start out with the event-predicting sense of risks, we are already involved in a process of deliberative optimizing. We want to know the probabilities and the level of harm because we are at least, at some level, making a risk-benefit trade-off decision.

By deliberative, I mean that we are consciously thinking about options, we are consciously making a comparison, and we are, at least to some degree, consciously applying a decision rule about which way to go. We are doing very little consciously at the heuristics or the cognitive filtering level. This is the type of thing that happens before something even emerges in our world view as significant. For the responses to act-classifying risks, there are three strategies that people follow, both individually and collectively, when they have decided that there is a risk in this broad sense of actions that call for special consideration.

The first is to eliminate the perceived source of risk to simplify one's life by saying "I don't even want to think about it. Just don't do it. Who is going to be responsible in this particular situation? Am I responsible as the risk bearer? Are you responsible as the risk imposer? And if we get that satisfied satisfactorily, that may be the end of the story. We may not have done any work to either quantify or even approximate or estimate probabilities and consequences before we arrive at either of those two solutions.

The third thing that we can do in this situation is to undertake a deliberation, to go to the trouble of trying to explicitly articulate—perhaps qualified, perhaps not—but explicitly articulate the dimensions of probability and harm and go through the process of making a deliberate conscious decision. This may be an individual working through a thought process or a group working through a social process.

There is a sense in which what is going on in terms of a lot of the public debate is that the risk assessment community, and justifiably so, is already well into the process of deliberation. And the public is still sorting things out and talking about this as being risky in the sense that this is something that calls for a greater look and more care.

4. Are genetically modified plant foods safe to eat?

And it is not clear that the public wants to resolve this problem by a deliberative strategy. They may be more receptive to resolving it by laying down some strict criteria of accountability or by simply eliminating the option from consideration. What is the rationality that is implicit in this? Basically it would be quite irrational to engage in deliberative optimization with regard to all the potential.

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If we did that, we would be spending all our time calculating probabilities and benefits and making comparative decisions. One after another there are hundreds of thousands of potential choices that we make every day, and it would be a tremendous waste of our cognitive resources to make deliberative decisions about all of them. It is clear that there have to be some of these substitute rules that apportion deliberative resources and tell us when we are going to go though the explicit risk comparison. I am suggesting that although there is a clear sense in which deliberative optimizing gives us a very strong characterization of what would be rational behavior in a particular case, we need some type of heuristic operating in the background.

This heuristic gives some sense of when it is the right time to get more information, when it is the right time to get a detailed risk assessment or risk calculation. In looking at genetically engineered foods, I will assume that they score low on the probability and harm levels. That has been the scientific consensus, at least, although that consensus goes back and forth over time.

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  • Development of a construct-based risk assessment framework for genetic engineered crops?

Nevertheless, compared with microbial hazards, genetic engineering is not a serious risk issue with respect to the probability of harm. Compared with risks of global climate change, it is probably not even a serious environmental risk issue. Genetically modified food is not going to score very high on the two parameters of probability and degree of harm. However, if we look at questions such as "Is it an action that is being undertaken intentionally?