GM crops promote a system of industrialised agriculture that damages socio-ecological relations, new paper finds
1. A feminist ethics of care framework for risk assessment of GM crops – comment by Third World Network
2. Is the feminist ethics of care framework a useful lens for GM crop risk appraisal in the Global South? – peer-reviewed paper
1. A feminist ethics of care framework for risk assessment of GM crops
Through exploring feminist perspectives on science, a recent study examined the dominance of "technological rationalism" and the problems that arise from this authoritative logic, including its application by the dominant and largely consequentialist risk assessment framework in the context of South Africa. Scientists, academics, NGO and government representatives involved in GM crop regulation were interviewed in order to explore the potential of a Feminist Ethics of Care as an alternative framework.
The Feminist Ethics of Care framework acknowledges that GM crops are part of and promote a system of industrialised agriculture that damages socio-ecological relations and argues that they cannot be evaluated in isolation of their systemic impact. The resolutions to many of the systemic challenges that South Africa faces in terms of food security, drought, climate change, and poverty lie in a holistic approach to agricultural development and climate resilience that decentres the neoliberal imperative of economic growth and instead pursues diverse strategies that acknowledge the strength of socio-ecological relationships by focusing on feminist themes such as relationships, context, power, narrative and emotion.
The study concluded that the current system of GM crop regulation in South Africa is flawed and stems from a particular way of seeing, thinking and speaking about certain risks. Results indicated that risk appraisal for GM crops in South Africa is not a neutral tool for technological regulation, but is instead a mechanism that further entrenches the values of a patriarchal-technological culture that stems from colonial and developmental ideologies of yield, productivity and efficiency. Feminist perspectives, on the other hand, ask us to broaden the framing of the issue, to consider different kinds of knowledge, to re-imagine ourselves as social, rather than economic subjects, to be open to alternatives, to tap into the capacity of socio-ecological relations and to recognize power dynamics to ensure the inclusion of voices currently missing from the political discourse.
However, meaningful change will not arise from simply adding these elements to the current system. Rather, a call must be made for a re-imagining, and redesigning, both institutionally and politically-economically. What this research offers is a new trajectory that can acknowledge the contributions and limitations of science and imagine a new system that can build upon local knowledge and socio-ecological practices.
2. Is the feminist ethics of care framework a useful lens for GM crop risk appraisal in the Global South?
Jennifer Whittingham and Rachel Wynberg
Elsevier – Technology in Society, Volume 64, February 2021, 101455
Available online: 16 November 2020
The risk assessment of genetically modified (GM) crops is assumed to be a benign regulatory tool due to its perceived objectivity and freedom from the morals and values that pervade society. Yet, against the current backdrop of ecological, social and political volatility, issues that cannot be resolved using the existing framework in South Africa are consistently emerging. This paper calls for a reformation of regulatory procedures by exploring the potential of Feminist Care Ethics to illuminate an alternative approach to the assessment of GM crops. While fresh thinking is welcome into the entangled field of biotechnology governance, there remains little understanding of how to accommodate such approaches in the context of the Global South. Twenty three interviews with participants from governmental, non-governmental and academic bodies were carried out in order to explore the potential of a Feminist Ethic of Care as an alternative framework. By examining the current appraisal procedures and tracing their evolution, problems with the current system were illuminated. To assess the suitability of the care ethic framework and ensure reflexivity, a hybrid approach to thematic analysis was applied. Using themes derived from feminist literature such as relationships, context, power, narrative and emotion, new ‘ways of seeing’ risk emerged and illuminated salient issues that are habitually ignored by the current science-based risk approach to assessment. The current approach was found to be flawed, stemming from a neoliberal, productivist perception of our socio-ecological environment. Feminist perspectives instead ask us to broaden the framing of risk, to consider different knowledges, to re-imagine ourselves as social, rather than economic beings, to tap into the capacity of socio-ecological relations and to recognize and dismantle power structures. The research concludes that although the care ethics themes offer a new approach to GM crop regulation, meaningful change will not arise from simply adding these elements to the current system. Rather, a call must be made for a re-imagining, and redesigning, both institutionally and politically-economically.