Integrating socio-economic considerations in biosafety decision-making

Framework for Socio-economic Impact Assessment (SIA)

Socioeconomic considerations are crucial in safeguarding the interests of indigenous and local communities in technology adoption. However, a lack of comprehension of the regulations governing the inclusion of socio-economic considerations by stakeholders could translate to socio-economic assessments becoming an obstacle to the development and transfer of safe and efficacious products to farmers (Falck-Zepeda, 2009). For biosafety approval processes, assessment of such considerations will require a mechanism for identifying positive and negative socio-economic impacts. Doing this requires a framework that is accessible, transparent, reproducible, predictable, and science-based to ensure that SIA will not become an obstacle to the safe development and transfer of products to end-users. The socio-economic impact data could have the social impact component including acceptability, vulnerability, access, gender equity, loss of traditional knowledge, appropriateness, culture, ethics, and religion while the economic impact component covers cost-benefit analysis, cost of application, cost of compliance with biosafety regulations, cost of new planting material and impact on trade.

The major phases in a GM product development that potentially represent regulatory decision points in a functional biosafety system are the laboratory, greenhouse, confined field trial, commercialization and post-commercialization stages. The central issue is to determine the stage at which to include socio-economic considerations since socioeconomic assessments could be ex-ante i.e. before the fact/event or ex-post i.e. after the fact/event. For biosafety approval processes, socioeconomic assessments tend to be ex-ante and therein lies a limitation regarding methods for assessment. Equally important is whether to have socioeconomic considerations inbuilt into the biosafety decision-making process or have a process that separates risk and socio-economic impact assessments but utilizes SIA before a decision is made.