The Bioeconomy concept has been definitely gaining momentum in recent years. In fact, it can be counted among recent emerging macro-political concepts that are defining entire science and technology policies in Western countries and beyond. However, most of the discussion is still at a conceptual level, and the concept is passed around mostly between science (research & development) and policy actors. However, civic participation in the debate has been remarkably scarce. In fact, it can well be that most people do not even know what Bioeconomy means, let alone grasp its potential implications .
However, the discussion seems to have recently protruded the public discourse, at least in Germany. Two German authors, Franz Theo Gottwald and Anita Krätzer, have recently published a book titled (roughly translated from German): “The deceiving Bioeconomy: criticism on a totalitarian approach” (original German title: “Irrweg Bioökonomie: Kritik an einem totalitären Ansatz“).
In their book, Gottwald and Krätzer criticize the recent Bioeconomy developments in Germany, which they describe as an international alliance between the biotech-, chemical, pharma, agricultural, food and energy industries, in cahoots with research and policymakers. The main goal of this alliance is allegedly “the commercialization of all life”. They see this as a particularly worrisome development mainly because of humans’ fiddling with complex life forms that they cannot yet fully grasp. Gene technology and the development of genetically modified crops are their main points of criticism, but also the lack of transparency and lack of civic participation in the Bioeconomy discussion. Thus, they argue that to some extent, the term “Bioeconomy” has already received negative connotations in Germany. They further urge the general public and civil society to get mote involved in the debate and have a saying.
Although I believe that the two authors’ approach is sometimes overly simplified , and mostly represents fixed views on gene technology, the fear and skepticism towards the “unknown” is reasonable. Bad experiences with big corporations patenting seeds, harming the environment ,and impoverishing locals are still happening. Thus, any form of criticism on Bioeconomy should be seen as welcome development in Germany. This needs to happen in all countries currently implementing Bioeconomy strategies. For example in Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland) where the Bioeconomy is most advanced, public debates on bioeconomy issues and civil society engagement is still remarkably scarce, if not absent.
Mustalahti I. (2015) Responsive Bioeconomy: Interaction of states, citizens and corporations in everyday practices of forest governance. Towards a Sustainable Bioeconomy 21-23 October 2015, Sant Pau, Barcelona.