The regulation of biotechnology products at the national and international level inevitably involves private sector companies. Biotechnology firms are, in many ways, the “street-level bureaucrats” of biotechnology, those expected to enforce and implement government regulations regarding biotechnology products.
Not only are they the front-line producers and distributors of the technology, a fact which places them well to provide insights and channel their experience into the design of regulatory systems, but the in-house scientific expertise they have and the level of capital they own, make them key advisers and powerful political players in the politics of biotechnology regulation. This paper analyses the political role of the firms that are in many ways driving the “gene revolution” which systems of public regulation at the national and international level seek to manage in an orderly and environmentally-responsible fashion.
The first section looks at ways of explaining why firms are such influential players in the debate about the appropriate scale and scope of biotechnology regulation, drawing on the literatures on business influence to account for their structural advantages and bargaining assets. The following sections look firstly, at the ways in which firms have sought to shape public regulations pertaining to biotechnology products in a way which addresses their concerns about “unnecessary” interference in international trade, harmonised approaches to risk assessment, intellectual property protection and the need for commercial confidentiality. Secondly, in sections on the regulation of business, we explore other strategies that have been adopted by NGOs and consumer groups to try and develop their own forms of “governance” of the trade in GMOs as a reaction to the perceived weakness and inadequacy of existing systems of public regulation. In each case, we attempt to tease out possible implications for the strengthening of a policy agenda more firmly grounded in concerns about the food security of the poor.