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Biosciences, Politics and Social Acceptability


Science in agriculture has driven major increases in yield and quality which in turn have led to increased trade and disturbance to the status quo. The introduction of new technologies can invoke concerns such as public health, environmental issues and fear of the unknown, however new bioscience developments have heightened levels of concern due to issues such as food safety, environmental pollution and the ethical issues surrounding life itself.

New agricultural technologies can provoke political and social controversy which can impact on the uptake of the technology. Loss of biodiversity and intellectual property rights have been made subject to international agreements while disputes such as rights and access for the developing world and genetically modified crops remain unresolved internationally. Farmer and consumer groups opposing technological change have gained political power and influence in the developing and developed world. Consumer led policies have prevented technological introductions and led to trade disputes.

This module aims to address the basis of these concerns over new technology and analyse the issues and risks scientifically. The limits of scientific evaluation in terms of hypothesis testing (i.e. inability to prove a negative) and the apparent uncertainty of risk assessment will be discussed. The political and social nature of the reactions to new technology will be examined in the context of changing agricultural policy paradigms, the politics of collective consumption and the changing roles and responsibilities of the state, producer and consumer.


  • To introduce a range of opinions/arguments and to engage in the debates for and against the introduction of new technologies.
  • To analyse the risks associated with the introduction of new technology.
  • To understand the principles and scientific basis of risk assessment and scientific proof.
  • To understand the changes in agriculture: industry structure, trends in agricultural trade policies and the globalisation.
  • To analyse the reasons for concern of new technology.
  • To evaluate the social and political impacts and consequences on the acceptability of new emergent agricultural technologies.
  • To understand the roles and responsibilities of national and international bodies in regulating food safety, international trade, intellectual property rights and trade disputes.


  • Introduction. The role of science in society, the media and business. The relationship matrix between bioscience, politics and sociology.
  • Taking scientific discoveries to technological production. Requirements of good science, future markets, available investment and technological drive.
  • The nature of scientific proof and risk assessment science and scientific analysis of the controversy of genetic modification.
  • Introduction to bioethics.
  • Food safety issues - a worldwide perspective.
  • Science and the globalisation of agriculture.
  • Technology and political resistance, the shift to consumer driven politics, the rise of social movements and the role of the media.
  • Impacts of biotechnology on the status of science in society and on trade disputes.
  • Liberalisation of agricultural policy.