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An investigation of the potential utility of technology assessment to the food industry

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Kimber, J (2011) An investigation of the potential utility of technology assessment to the food industry. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This PhD contributes to the discipline of food policy by introducing Technology Assessment (TA) as a potential tool for the food and biotechnology industries and food policy decision-makers. TA is an analysis tool used to consider the consequences of new technologies. This social research project investigated how TA can be used in the food industry and specifically how it can be used to assess the impacts of a new crop biotechnology on society. The potential use of TA was evaluated using an emerging food biotechnology, longchain omega-3 production in canola, which is being developed by the CSIRO Food Futures Flagship. This emerging biotechnology involves the production of genetically modified oil seed plants, designed to synthesise essential omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω3 LC-PUFA). For the purpose of the thesis, these will be referred to as long-chain omega-3 oils. These oils are normally absorbed by humans by eating seafood, and are deficient in most people’s diets. With declining global fish stocks, this dietary deficiency is likely to be exacerbated in the future. By making these nutrients available in commercial crops such as canola, it is anticipated that there will be improved health and environmental outcomes. The qualitative social research methods used in this study included key informant interviews together with focus groups with a range of social groups who may be affected directly or indirectly by the omega-3 technology. The broader aim of the project is to increase awareness of the social issues present in the food industry and create information that can inform decision-makers at all levels of food industry. The results identified several groups that would benefit directly from the technology, for example, the aquaculture and livestock industries, farmers that used conventional broadacre farming methods and the broader community in general as a result of improved health outcomes. Other groups that may be opposed or adversely affected include the fishing industry, organic farmers and environmental groups. There are some issues that warrant further attention if this technology is to be accepted into society. These revolve around the GM process used to produce long-chain omega-3 oils and the desire for labelling that would enable the Australian publics to make an informed choice about whether to purchase a particular product that contained the oil. The type of TA that could be used in the future and some of the potential problems that may be encountered if it was to be implemented into the food industry are discussed. The initiation and implementation of biotechnology policy is reviewed. There are some areas of concern regarding Australia’s current GM regulatory framework, for example, compensation in the advent of inadvertent co-mixing. It is proposed that a TA vision assessment framework could create a shared vision for the future of food, which would inform policy-makers at all levels. TA has the potential to increase democratic principles by allowing a broader range of social groups to influence policy. The thesis in that it is likely to be the first Australian application of technology assessment in the food industry.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Food policy, Genetic modification, technology assessment, social issues, Governance
Date Deposited: 18 May 2011 23:28
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 04:17
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/10793
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