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“What Can Past Dynamics of Agbiotech Regulation Teach Us about Trans-Atlantic Divergences in Genome Editing?”

Presented by Adrian Ely. Co-authored with Beate Friedrich, Dominic Glover, Matthew Schnurr, Klara Fischer, and Glenn Stone.

Biotechnologies emerge within broader socio-technical systems that display certain characteristics of path-dependence.  In 1997, on the basis of national comparisons, Sheila Jasanoff identified three cultures of biotechnology regulation, which she named product (in the USA), process (in the UK) and programme (in Germany).  These were based on legal and institutional differences deeply embedded in each country’s historical relationship with technology.  Over thirty years later, the CRISPR method of genome editing is again subject to differing national and regional approaches that may lead to a divergence in broader agricultural trajectories.  This presentation briefly revisits Jasanoff’s analysis and considers whether, and how, the cultural differences she identified have shaped policy processes for the governance of genome-edited organisms.  We ask how novel issues raised by genome editing may require Jasanoff’s analysis to be modified and amended, and interrogate the role of specific regulatory events, both past (the 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice that genome-edited organisms should be regulated as genetically modified organisms in the European Union) and future (the UK’s forthcoming departure from the European Union), as potentially significant moments of divergence and convergence.


Adrian Ely is a Reader in Technology and Sustainability at the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. He has twenty years of professional and research experience in science and technology policy and its contribution to sustainable development.  His primary focus has been the regulation and governance of emerging biotechnologies – a topic that he has researched in various European countries, the USA, Kenya and China.

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