b'THE RISK CORNER BY: DAVID ZARUKPOST-COVID-19: JE SUIS BIOTECH!N ature favours the strong; sci- ciple, the COVID-19 crisis provides clearused by cunning survivalist politicians ence protects the vulnerable.evidence that the system is broken. Weagainst these same scientists. The science The 2020 COVID-19 coronavi- need a risk management strategy fit forand society second honeymoon might be rus crisis has reminded humanity justthe 21st century, but instead the precau- short-lived.how vulnerable we are and how impor- tionary mindset led to a failure to act tant research and technology are. Isuntil lockdowns were the only option. A RISK MANAGEMENT STRATEGY this the moment public trust in scienceThe failure to regulate on GMOs andFIT FOR THE 21ST CENTURYreturns? Will plant biotechnology finallynew plant breeding techniques illustratesTwo decades of reliance on precaution be allowed to fully deliver societal bene- how precaution castrated proper evi- have damaged the capacity of our author-fits in Europe? dence-based policymaking, denying soci- ities to take proper, evidence-based deci-It is not about society once againetal benefits and suffocating innovation.sions to deliver optimal benefits and trusting science, but rather the real- Affluence in Europe allowed this failuresocietal goods. Governance is not just isation of the failure of precaution as ato be ignored and the consequences ofabout banning activities, substances and risk management tool. Almost overnightlost agritech advantages were easilytechnologies. in mid-March 2020, the world felt whatabsorbed by higher prices for food andPrecaution has made our risk man-the European plant biotech industry hasfeed imports. But the economic and socialagers lazy and expedient; it has made our endured for most of the last 25 years:consequences of the COVID-19 lockdownpublic docile and demanding zero-risk denial of benefits as regulatory inactionpolicy debacle could not be ignored; thatsolutions. The pandemic reminded us led to knee-jerk precautionary measures. zero-risk precautionary mindset thathow vulnerable we are. We need a proper Everyone suffering under lockdowncould pretend away biotech proved impo- risk management strategy that ensures can now claim: Je suis biotech! tent in the face of a pandemic.benefits for vulnerable populations.Precaution needs to be put in its THE FAILURE OF PRECAUTION A SCIENCE RENAISSANCE? place, not as the first demand in the regu-What did Western risk managers needSome scientists may be sitting back look- latory process but as the last step, applied to do in the 10 weeks prior to the Marching at the Post-COVID-19 arena quiteif innovators are unable to measure and 2020 precautionary lockdowns whenpositively: the public is reaching out forreduce potential risk exposure levels. China and Korea were battling COVID- scientific facts. Could this be a new eraFollowing the destructive effects of the 19? Scenario building? Needs assess- of evidence-based policymaking? InterestCOVID-19 lockdowns, Western societies ments? Identifying and protecting thein the media to report on advice fromhave become more vulnerable and have most vulnerable? Applying risk reductionscientific advisers, demand for vaccineturned, once again, to technology (rather measures? Testing, tracking, and trac- development, the censoring of unsub- than precaution) to solve their problems. ing? Coordinating with other countries?stantiated fearmongering on social mediaThere is an opportunity for plant breed-Empowering individuals? Instead, they the public seems ripe for rationality.ers to remind risk managers of the ben-told their publics to wash their hands andWill trust in science (including biotech)efits of their technologies to strengthen when the pandemic hit hard, Western offi- finally come back and unlock some regu- resilience.cials banned all activities. latory handcuffs? History, unfortunately,While many activist groups are push-The precautionary mindset promis- suggests nothing could be further froming a Post-COVID-19 Blueprint calling for ing zero-risk, complete safety, and cer- the truth. more precaution, scientists need to argue, tainty (regardless of the loss of benefits)During the UK BSE-mad cow crisis,urgently, for a risk management strategy essentially applies one strategy: in thethe scientific advice was put to the fore,fit for the 21st century. This strategy face of uncertainty, stop, ban or disallowwith government ministers claimingshould be evidence-based, concerned any activities. This hit a brick wall withtheir decisions followed their scientificwith the challenges facing agriculture the COVID-19 lockdowns. Populationsadvisers. As more information emerged,and dedicated to reducing vulnerabilities expecting to be kept safe saw theirthe risk managers were quick to blamelike food security and promoting sustain-economies shut down, social stressesthe scientists. Like beef consumption inable agriculture. amplified, and most societal benefitsthe UK, 25 years later, trust in govern- Je suis biotech! means the time denied.ment scientific advisers never recovered.for plant biotechnology may have finally After two decades of European riskLikewise, as we are learning more aboutarrived. management boxed away by the expedi- this coronavirus, any past scientific ent efficiency of the precautionary prin- advice that now seems dated, will be 48IEUROPEAN SEEDIEUROPEAN-SEED.COM'