Geography / Geology
School of Environmental Sciences

Regulation and Governance of Agricultural Biotechnology: GMOs in Australia and the United Kingdom

David Gibbs is working on a AUS$190,000 research project together with two Australian colleagues Chris Cocklin (James Cook University) and Jacqui Dibden (Monash University). The project on will run for three years from January 2008 and will explore the contested area of genetically modified organisms in the agricultural sector in both countries, especially looking at debates over whether competitive regional strategies are best served by adopting GMOs or going for a 'clean and green' approach.

The development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is currently positioned as one of the most significant and contentious societal debates globally. Its significance arises from the perceived economic benefits to regions and nations that can successfully capture competitive advantages in research and development, counterposed by the possible threats to human health, long-term agricultural productivity, the pursuit of other competitive strategies for agriculture (e.g., organics), and the environment. This research proposal goes to the very heart of these issues. Extending the investigators' ongoing programmes of work involving the use of regulation as a theoretical and analytical construct, the project is concerned with the development, social contestation, growth and regulation of the biotechnology sector, specifically GMOs in the form of seeds, crops, animals and foods. The research will examine the interplay between the suggested benefits of adopting and encouraging the new technology and the negative aspects that may also arise, and the attempts that have been made through regulation and governance to mediate the debates and manage the associated risks.

An analysis of the governance and regulation of GMOs in Australia and the UK is the central purpose of the proposed project. The specific elements of the research will be an analysis of:

  • The social and policy debates, in both Australia and the UK, surrounding the development of GMOs. The role of particular actors (e.g., transnational companies, consumers, food and fibre producers, NGOs) in policy, governance and regulation in relation to GMOs.
  • How the state, operating at a range of geographic scales (local, regional, national), is responding to both the opportunities and threats presented by GMOs, and how this intersects with government agendas relating to economic competitiveness and environmental and social sustainability.
  • The characteristics of the social contestation surrounding the development of GMOs and the negotiation, resistance and implementation of regulation at local and regional scales in both the Australian and UK contexts.
  • The way in which the regulatory responses and mediation of conflicts by the Australian and UK governments have been shaped by the different institutional and policy environments in these two countries, and the implications of these public debates and regulatory responses for the capture of competitive opportunities.


Gibbs, D (2000) Globalization, the Bioscience Industry and Local Environmental Responses, Global Environmental Change, 10, 245-257.

Hain, M, Cocklin, C and Gibbs, D (2002) Regulating biosciences: the Gene Technology Act 2000, Environmental and Planning Law Journal, 19(3), 163-179.

Cocklin, C, Dibden, J and Gibbs, D (2007) Competitiveness versus 'clean and green'? The regulation and governance of GMOs in Australia and the UK, Geoforum (in press).

Gibbs, D, Cocklin, C and Dibden, J (2007) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the future of rural spaces, Geoforum (in press).

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