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Plant Genome Editing – Policies and Governance

Policy and Practice Reviews ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Bioeng. Biotechnol. | doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2019.00057

Dealing with rejection: An application of the exit–voice framework to genome-edited food

  • 1Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Germany
  • 2University of Bonn, Germany

Genome editing has been hailed as a both revolutionary technology and potential solution to many agriculture-related and sustainability problems. However, owing to the past challenges and controversy generated by widespread rejection of genetic engineering, especially once applied to agriculture and food production, such innovations have also prompted their fair share of concern. Generally speaking, much of the discussion centres on the inadequacy or uncertainty of current regulatory regimes, partly owing to the vastly different approaches in the European Union and United States. Insofar as this focus on regulatory regimes is stimulated by the desire to bridge the divide between proponents and critics of genome editing, it risks losing sight of an essential aim of regulatory action: effectively responding to and fostering trust in consumers and the public. In this article, we thus assign priority to understanding the contours of individual dissatisfaction and its related responses. Towards this end, we apply and extend Hirschman’s exit–voice framework to bring together, synthesize, and give much-needed substance to the diverse expressions of dissatisfaction and discontent with novel genome-editing technologies. Through the resulting synthetic framework, we then identify and evaluate which governance approaches can prevent actions seen to be problematic and, moreover, open up the space for a more active public. In this context, we devote specific attention to (i) use of labelling as a means to enable ‘exit’ of consumers from markets and (ii) public deliberation as a possible expression of ‘voice’. Indeed, both options are proposed and utilized in the context of genome editing, e.g. as a way for sceptical consumers to express their viewpoints, seek change in prevailing food systems, and navigate the conflicts and tensions from applying unique sets of values to assess the balance of risks and benefits. So far missing, though, is an evaluation of how well such efforts offer effective means for public expression, which is why we also link this framework to the wider issue of consumer sovereignty. Having done so, we conclude with a brief commentary on the potential and limitations of both options in the existing institutional framework of the EU.

Keywords: CRISPR, exit and voice, Food innovation, Food labelling, Genome editing, governance, public deliberation

Received: 11 Oct 2018; Accepted: 04 Mar 2019.

Edited by:

Armin Spök, Graz University of Technology, Austria

Reviewed by:

Gerald Epstein, National Defense University, United States
Rita Payan Carreira, Universidade de Évora, Portugal
Alexander Bogner, Austrian Academy of Sciences (OAW), Austria  

Copyright: © 2019 Bartkowski and Baum. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Bartosz Bartkowski, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany,