Sustainability and Social Justice

Document Type



Genetically modified crops and foodstuff have been highly controversial for environmental, health, and ethical reasons. The controversies have been worldwide, but most prominent in the European Union, for reasons that include distrust of the regulatory authorities, scientists and technocratic decision making. An informal moratorium in the EU came recently to an end, without solving the underlying problems. In response to the criticisms, the European governments have attempted to improve the risk assessment methods and their scientific basis, and to tailor public policies to the growing demand for transparency, accountability, and public participation. This paper proposes a novel approach to including the public in evaluating the impacts of food and agricultural biotechnology and present and future applications modeled after the growing practice of sustainability reporting by companies. The most visible among those, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), when implemented properly, includes a wide range of stakeholders, including the financial institutions, companies, NGOs and the civil society, in an interactive multi-stakeholder discourse and collaboration. The reporting exercise would open the discussion about the R&D around new GMO products, and could mitigate potential adverse effects in an early stage (Constructive Technology Assessment). We specifically propose initiating a broadly based societal initiative aimed at developing of a new sectoral supplement of GRI Guidelines, specifically designed for the food and agricultural biotechnology sector. This approach can be conceptualized as experimentation on a small scale with a multitude of stakeholders involved (Bounded Socio-Technical Experiment or BSTE) which is an effective venue for higher-order learning among participants. Sustainability reports and BSTEs have been so far applied in limited cases, none of which included highly controversial technologies such as biotechnology; they need further elaboration and testing to become possibly highly effective concepts and tools for mitigating conflicts on the societal implications of emerging technologies, and to lead to better public policies and greater social trust. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Publication Title

Technological Forecasting and Social Change

Publication Date






First Page


Last Page







Constructive Technology Assessment, CTA, Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs, Global Reporting Initiative, GRI

Included in

Sociology Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.