Call for Papers - International Summer School. BEYOND THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE? Ethical, legal and societal aspects of genome editing in agriculture

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Call for Papers/Abstracts

With the new methods of genome editing the way the precautionary principle is interpreted in a scientific risk assessment of new plant and animal breeding techniques has to be disputed again. In the summer school proposed here the controversy about this criterion will be analysed by comparing the ongoing debate in Germany and the United Kingdom.

In addition to discussing scientific, legal and ethical aspects the summer school we will discuss alternatives for product labeling, which are suitable to respond to the specific protection needs of men, animals and environment. Therefore the ongoing labeling debate in the US will be discussed.

The five-day summer school addresses young scientists especially in the fields of molecular biology as well as agricultural sciences, law, sociology and ethics. We will present recommendations for new processes for outcome-based assessment and regulation of ‘genetically modified’ organisms and proposals for a better societal and ethical communication in respect of the central right of freedom of choice.

Key questions

The summer school aims to discuss the role of the precautionary principle for products gen-erated by gene editing in two thematic blocks: (1) Comparison of the different political discussions in the United Kingdom and Germany; (2) Legal, societal and ethical backgrounds of the labeling practice in the US and Europe.

(1) The political debate about new breeding technologies in UK and Germany
In the UK already the public's response to the new opt-out clause in Directive 2007/46/EC from April 2015 differed from its reception in Germany. While in Germany there was an overwhelming political consensus over all parties that we “do not need GMOs on German fields”1 (Agricultural Minister Christian Schmidt) the current government policy in the United Kingdom mainly approves the use of GMOs, when it claims to “support farmers having access to developments in new technology and being able to choose whether or not to adopt them.” Despite the controversial debate about coexistence of gene technology and conven-tional agricultural methods the government assures to “implement pragmatic and proportion-ate measures to segregate these from conventional and organic crops, so that choice can be exercised and economic interests are appropriately protected.”2

With Scotland, Northern Ire-land and Wales opting out on a regional basis, England remains the only country in the Brit-ish Isles to allow GM crop cultivation. The scientific community in the UK acts similar as in Germany, but receives, however, more resonance in the political discussion. Of particular importance is the Fifth Report on “Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement” or-dered from the Science and Technology Committee by the House of Commons, which ex-poses the problems of the actual EU practice of GMO-Labeling, claims national responsibility concerning access to and use of safe products by national governments and highlights the potentials of new breeding technologies for social and economic innovation.

As a conclusion the Committee requests a new debate especially about the role of the precautionary principle in risk assessment and risk management.3 A German-British comparison of the debate about the social, legal and societal aspects of genome editing, as proposed here, has to identify the differences in the political culture as well as in the societal role of science, reflected in the different discussions about technologies in agriculture.

(2) The practice of labeling in the US and Europe
In European countries a designation of genetically modified ingredients is compulsory. The United States does not require such labeling. Why does the political practice differ in that regard? Of course there is an intense debate about labeling of GMOs going on in the US as well.4 But in California, for example, the latest poll on this topic didn’t find a majority for man-datory labeling and the senate committee actually tends to voluntary labeling.5

Unlike the European discussion focusing on possible risks of new breeding techniques, the discourse in the US is predominantly motivated by the particular prominence of the freedom of choice and therefore concerned about labeling. Against this backdrop the discussion about health or en-vironmental impairment resulting from the new technologies is open for value-based argu-ments that are not sufficiently addressed in the European debate. A comparison of the US-American and the European situation will reveal the arguments offered in favour of and against the need of labeling, which constitute and justify the counterparties in the GM-debate.

Main topics

During the five-day summer school the two thematic blocks will be discussed in four distinct sessions offering the following scientific, legal and ethical/societal perspectives:

I. Regulating new breeding technologies for plants and animals: A comparison between the debate in the United Kingdom and Germany
II. Legal aspects of Genome Editing: Differences between a process-based and an outcome-based regulation
III. Societal and ethical implications of the precautionary principle facing intended and off-target effects
IV. Using food labels to cope with uncertainty in risk discussions


During the summer school scientific experts will present and discuss fundamental aspects of the daily session. The following list of experts (requested or confirmed) corresponds to the thematic range mentioned above:

Prof. Dr. Angela Kallhoff, Professor of Ethics with Special Emphasis on Applied Ethics, University of Vienna, Austria, Faculty of Philosophy and Education. Research areas: Ethics, political philosophy, applied ethics. 

PD Dr. Alexander Bogner, Institute of Technology Assessment of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. He is a senior sociologist with a special focus on science, technology and the environment. His main research interest is in how science and technology change when the boundaries between science, politics and the public blur. His empirical work has focused on biomedicine, agri-biotechnology and emerging technologies.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Georg Dederer, Chair of Constitutional and Administrative Law, Public International Law, European and International Economic Law, Universität Passau. Actual research projects: Genome editing in plant biotechnology - a science based legal analysis of regulatory problems; Legal aspects of the generation, genetic modification and use of pluripotent stem cell-derived human gametes

Prof. Dr Lynn Frewer, Professor of Food & Society, School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Newcastle University. Current Research Interests (among others): Understanding and measuring societal and individual responses to risks and benefits associated with food, health, sustainability and safety, Developing and testing risk (benefit)communication strategies and other public health interventions related to food choice, including policy translation of scientific results, Stakeholder analysis and operationalising scientific foresight regarding research agenda setting, policy and governance in the area of emerging food technologies, and food and agricultural risks.

Prof. Dr. Joachim SchiemannFormer Head of the Institute for Biosafety in Plant Biotechnology at the Julius Kühn Institute, Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Quedlinburg; he also is Professor at Leuphana University Lüneburg. He helds diverse memberships: Executive Committee of the International Society for Biosafety Re-search; Steering Council of the European Technology Platform „Plants for the Future“; Committee for Genetically Modified Food and Feed, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). He is Associate Editor of “Frontiers in Plant Biotechnology” and member in the Board of Trustees of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Molecular Biology and Ap-plied Ecology.

You are interested in taking part? You find all relevant information at


1 Bayernkurier, 05.06.2015, online (12.11.15)
2 Department for Environmental Food and Rural Affairs & Rural Payments Agency: Policy paper 2010 to 2015 government policy: food and farming industry, updated 8 May 2015, online publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-food-and-farming-industry/2010-to-2015-government-policy-food-and-farming-industry#appendix-7-genetic-modification (12.11.15)
3 Science and Technology Committee - Fifth Report to the House of Commons “Advanced genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution”, online http://www.publications.parliament. uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmsctech/ 328/32802.htm (12.11.15)
4 Weirich P (Ed.) (2008): Labeling Genetically Modified Food. The Philosophical and Legal Debate, Oxford 2008; Dunwell J.M. (2014): Genetically modified (GM) crops: European and transatlantic divisions (Opinion Piece), in: MOLECULAR PLANT PATHOLOGY 15(2), 119–121;