Advocacy coalitions, policy-oriented learning and long-term change in genetic engineering policy: an interpretist view.

VerfasserBandelow, Nils C.
  1. Introduction (1)

    In 1973, Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer introduced a technique to transfer genes from one organism to another artificially. Scientists, industry, farmers, medicine, and several social movements have associated different kinds of hopes and risks with the use of gene technology. Eventually, it became a permanent controversial political issue (cf. Hindmarsh/Gottweis 2005: 299). The controversy led to a regulatory framework that differs between OECD countries although there was an international scientific debate to connect the national discourses (cf. Gottweis 1998). Even though the European Union gained a lot of legal competencies, national actors and the Member States still dominate the political debates. Within the multi level governance system most decisions are developed bottom up, and the implementation of European directives differs between the Member States (cf. Dolata 2003: 279). In Germany, the debate became more controversial than in other countries and led to strikter regulations (cf. Aretz 1999). In the meantime there were several changes of the original regulatory framework. So, we now have the opportunity to observe policy change over more than three decades.

    How and why did the regulation of gene technology in Germany change during the last decades? Policy Analysis provides several theoretical lenses to analyse this question. Most of them refer to the relevant actors within the policy subsystem (Fink 2003: 9). As the subject of genetic engineering policy has changed, and the actors have gained new knowledge and experiences, it is important to consider the beliefs, arguments and the interpretation of information by policy actors. Changes of actors' belief systems might contribute to an understanding and explanation of the development of the policy outcome. Political actors face uncertainty about the effects of chosen policies in the field of genetic engineering as they lack reliable information and experience about the risks and benefits of this technology. Therefore new information could be more important than it is for distributive or redistributive policies.

    The following analysis will use a theory of policy learning in order to understand change of gene technology policies. The paper starts with a presentation of the policy outcome. In a second step the Interpretist Learning Theory will be presented to provide a theoretical lens for the analysis. Subsequently, methodological problems of any attempt to confront interpretist theory with (comparative) case study research will be discussed. Thereby the paper presents some methods to use interpretist theory within policy analysis. It then adopts the theory to long term change of gene technology policy.

  2. Longterm Change in Gene Technology Policy

    Scince 1973 there is a controversy how the (unknown) benefits of gene technology could be used, and in what way it is necessary to develop a regulatory framework to control its (unknown) risks (cf. Schell 1994). The first actors to join the new policy subsystem of gene technology policy were scientists themselves. In 1974, eleven scientists called for a total ban of genetic engineering, which was followed by the whole scientific community (Berg et al. 1974). In 1975, 140 leading scientists met at Asilomar/CA to discuss the future regulation of gene technology (cf. Krimsky 1982). The conference lifted the ban and introduced a classification of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) based on the risk level of organisms used as donators and receivers of desoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Even though this approach seems to deny any special risk of recombinant DNA biotechnology, the scientists were aware of their lack of knowledge regarding the actual risks. Therefore they proposed guidelines that contained strict safety provisions and actually only enabled the use of harmless donator and receiver organisms and also restricted the deliberate release of GMOs. In 1976, the US-American National Institute of Health enacted the first national guidelines based on the new classification. Since 1978 the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology adopted similar guidelines. Both the American and the German guidelines were very strict compared to later regulations. In 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1986 the German Research Ministry followed the American guidelines by lowering the regulations step by step (cf. Bandelow 1999: 95-96). So the regulations converged at the original beliefs of the proponents.

    In the late 1980s a main policy change occurred. Opponents of genetic engineering became more influencial by criticizing the guidelines. They complained about the lack of legal liability and control and, consequently, demanded legally binding solutions. The debate about a German gene technology act followed earlier attempts to develop a legal framework (cf. Bandelow 1999: 97). While these attempts failed in 1970s, in 1990 both the European Union and the German parliament adopted a genetic engineering law. The European directive 90/219/EEC on the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms and the directive 90/220/EEC on the delibate release of genetically modified organisms fulfilled core demands of the opponents (cf. Bandelow 1999: 104-106). Environmental groups managed to shape the formulation of these directives substantially. The DG XI (Environment and Nuclear Safety) of the European Commission that shared the core beliefs of the opponents was in charge of proposing the directives and developed close relations with single critics of genetic engineering. At the same time, the European biotechnical industry still lacked effective associations to influence the policies successfully (cf. Rosendal 2005: 88; Cantley 1995: 535-537; Greenwood/Ronit 1992). Proponents of gene technology within the European Commission did not influence the core of the directives either: The DG III, which should have been in charge of the directives, was fully stretched with the formulation of a medical device directive. In a similar way the DG VI was busy with the preparation of the GATT negotiations (interview European Commission).

    The effect of the European directives, that produced higher demands for any use of genetic engineering, was even strengthened by the German gene technology act. The German act was mainly prepared by a Bundestags enquete commission on chances and risks of gene technology (1984-1987). Originally, the commission majority adviced to abstain from binding regulations but nonetheless developed a framework that could be referred to by 751 formulating a gene technology act. The main reason to produce an Act against the original advice was a decision of the Hessian Administrative Court in 1989 to ban a plant that the former Hoechst Company wanted build for creating insulin through genetic engineering (cf. Vitzthum/Geddert- Steinacher 1990: 67-76).

    Additionally other external effects produced a power-shift that strengthened the opponents of gene technology in Germany. In 1983 the Green Party was elected into the Bundestag for the first time. In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 there was an increase of public interest in ecological issues, and the skepticism towards new technologies rose. So the gene technology act should enable gene technology on the one hand and pacify the critics on the other hand. Therefore the act included the critics into the Central Commission for Biosafety even though this was not demanded by the European directives. Even more influencial became the opponents with regard to the implementation of the German gene technology act. The German federalism gives the main administrative competencies to the Lander. Since 1985, the Green Party joined the State government of Hesse, which was one of the most important locations for gene technology, hosting the former Hoechst Company and several universities. As the Greens took over the department of environment they were responsible for the authorization of activities related with the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms. As the Green Party at this time was a fierce opponent of genetic engineering it used this authority to develop even higher hurdles for applications than intended by the gene technology act (interviews with scientific gene technology users). Eventually, in the early 1990 there were very strict regulations for any use of gene technology.

    However, the regulations of the early 1990s turned out to be only an interruption of the general policy development. In the course of the 1990s both the European directives and the German act became amended several times to simplify regulations (cf. Bandelow 1999: 126- 143). In Germany, the "First Act Reforming the Gene Technology Act" of 1993 lowered the requirements for the use of genetically modified organisms that were assumed to be riskless essentially. Especially the participation of the Central Commission for Biosafety and the public involvement in permission procedures was limited to the use of donator and receiver organisms with high risks for people and environment.

    The European Commission introduced similar amendments of the European directives at the early 1990s. It reinforced the simplification of the deliberate release of common plants by several directives to to implement the deliberate release directive (93/584/EEC, 94/211/EC and 94/730/EC). In 1994, the first amendmend of directive 90/220 introduced a simplified procedure for repeat releases of common plants (directive 94/15/EEC). In 1997, the Commission enacted a second directive adapting to technical progress for the delibate release that braught a further simplification of the procedure (97/35/EC).

    The requirements concerning the contained use of genetically modified micro-organisms were simplified in the same way: Several amendments of the original law were all in line with the demands of the proponents: the first Commission "Decision Concerning the Guidelines for Classification"...

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