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The Bumpy Path Towards Knowledge Convergence for Pro-Poor Agro-Biotechnology Regulation and Development: Exploring Kenya's Regulatory Process

Kingiri, A

March 2012

Innogen working paper no. 105

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This paper aims to explore the different strands of knowledge that accompany biotechnology regulation and further exposes embedded dynamics that must inform knowledge convergence efforts for exploitation of biotechnology science in a developing country context. Contestations over the regulatory trajectory that developing countries should take to embrace the benefits of agro-biotechnology[1] have been debated widely. Debates in the global arena have focussed on two competing regulatory approaches namely: the more permissive approach of the United States (US) that presents biotechnology as posing no risk to the environment or human health unless proven otherwise through scientific risk evaluation; and, the more restrictive approach of European Union (EU) that imposes precautionary restrictions on use of products of biotechnology even when scientific knowledge about risks is uncertain. There is now a wide body of literature looking at trade conflicts brought about by these divergent regulatory policies leading to regulatory polarization (Paarlberg, 2001, 2008; Bernauer and Aerni, 2007; Bernauer, 2005; Falkner, 2007; Murphy and Levidow, 2006). Arguably, these polarised debates only expose the political dynamics of biotechnology from a very narrow view, primarily trade imperatives (Clapp, 2006). Some analysts, departing from what they perceive to be a narrow approach to this subject, have attempted to explain the bumpy path to biotechnology deployment and regulation in developing economies that exhibit different characteristics. Millstone and van Zwanenberg (2003) for instance looking at GM policies in the South have shown that the scientific conflicts embedded in GM safety compel countries to pursue divergent regulatory choices. Research has also shown that local context dictates technological dynamics and should be given a place in biotechnology development and regulation (van Zwanenberg et al., 2008). Falkner and Gupta (2009) have also noted that despite the EU-US international regulatory conflicts, developing countries are responding to related pressures in different and unique ways.

[1] Here I use the term biotechnology to mean the manipulation of living organisms to produce goods and services useful to human. I make distinction between traditional (or conventional) and modern biotechnologies. The traditional approach allows the development of new products (such as seed varieties) by the process of selection from genetic material already present within a species, while the modern (transgenic) approach develops products (such as seed varieties) through insertion of genetic material from different species into a host plant. These products are popularly known as Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

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