The National Biosafety Framework mandates more transparent, meaningful, and participatory public consultations on the conduct of field trials of biotech crops. With the new biosafety regulation of the Philippine government onhandling and use, transboundary movement, release into the environment, and management of genetically-modified plant and plant products derived from the use of modern biotechnology, there is a need to examine the public participation process and how citizens are positioned in the decision-making about products from modern biotechnology.
This study analyzed the process of public participation in the decision-making about crop biotechnology particularly on the application of field trials of genetically modified Golden Rice for human consumption. Guided by the general systems theory and John Middleton’s ASDAL Framework for communication policy and planning, it described the sectoral level of awareness and participation in public consultation and determined the relationship between the two factors using statistical analysis. The study employed exploratory sequential mixed method design that involved key informant interviews, focus group discussion, and survey. Based on the results, a national policy framework on public participation was proposed.
The study examined six cases of sectoral group participation conducted in two rural communities in Central and Northern part of Luzon, Philippines, that included the general consumer public, farm producers, regulators, experts, golden rice project proponents, and media. The results showed that the general consumer public, producers, regulators, and proponents viewed public consultation as ‘promotion and public awareness’; experts viewed it as ‘engaging in public dialogue and assessing collective ideas about crop biotechnology’; and media considered public consultation as ‘voicing out views and perceptions of the community people’. The level of participation in the consultation turned out ‘moderate’ to ‘high’. Among the producers and regulators, there was a moderate positive significant correlation between their level of awareness and level of participation. However, no significant correlation was observed with the other sectors. Overall, a positive correlation existed between level of awareness and level of participation.
The study also found the presentation of the proponents and open forum on Golden Rice were insufficient processes. Furthermore, a specific step-by-step flow on how to do public consultation on crop biotechnology was lacking. Results indicated three emerging issues from the public consultation process. One was the lack of communication, dialogue, and information dissemination. Another was on the selection and invitation of stakeholders in the process. The third issue was on the frequency of the process. Some respondents claimed that the public consultation was a “one-time” event which limited the participation of stakeholders.
The proposed public participation model suggests ‘four building blocks’ that allow multiple stakeholders to be fully involved in public consultation and social preparation. It also articulates that participation is most effective when it is planned, directed towards action and change, and is sustained.
Key words: public consultation, participation, Golden Rice, communication policy