Citizens meeting in the Latium Region (Italy)
In June 2019, four citizens’ meetings were organised in Italy by K&I, under the RECIPES project. The meetings took place in the Latium region (central Italy), namely in Capranica – Viterbo (June 1), Latina (June 5) and Rome (June 3 and 10).
The meetings were designed to provide the participants with an occasion to reflect on technology, risks and safety, focusing on the precautionary principle in the framework of technological innovation, and starting from the examples of three cases: GMOs, nanotechnologies and neonicotinoid pesticides. In parallel, citizen meetings organized by other RECIPES partners were also held in Bulgaria, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands .
In the weeks before, short illustrative documents were provided to the participants in the meetings to familiarize them with the issues dealt with. During the meetings, participants expressed their opinions on precaution and innovation through a questionnaire and group interviews. They started by answering a structured questionnaire, and then some of the issues dealt with in the questions were discussed in depth during group interviews (as a whole, five discussion groups were formed).
Despite the novelty and complexity of the topics at stake, the discussion was very participated and dynamic. The main reason to attend the meetings was the wish to learn more about precaution and innovation.
About GMOs (whose cultivation is forbidden in Italy, with some small and controlled exceptions), the prevailing opinion was that their use and utility should be assessed case by case, and their labeling is necessary both for food and other products. Concerning nano-technologies, while recognising their potential for industry and for healthcare, uncertainty prevailed: about one-half of people were not able to express an opinion. The need for a case-by-case assessment resulted to be the most popular answer. As for pesticides, there was an orientation towards the controlled use of these substances. The most widespread opinions, among two-thirds of the attendants, in fact, were those highlighting the need to carefully assess the risks before allowing their use, again on a case-by-case basis.
A large majority of participants showed both a strong orientation to precaution, mainly considering it as a way to promote responsible innovation, as well as a positive attitude towards innovation, which was reckoned a way to secure growth and prosperity by more than half of the citizens consulted. All in all, precaution and innovation have been considered by the majority of participants as two sides of the same coin, and the contribution of research was seen as crucial. An extended idea of precaution, covering also a consideration of the social consequences of technologies, was widely shared. Different opinions have been expressed about the degree of certainty needed to ban a product or a technology, but no extreme positions emerged during the debate.
About the involvement of stakeholders in decisions related to the precautionary principle, a major divide has been observed during all the meetings. On the one hand, there were supporters of an inclusive point of view stating that all the stakeholders affected by a decision should take part in it, while the opponents considered expertise as the main requirement to participate in the decisions. Many participants stressed the need to improve education, information, and social dialogue to improve decisions and involve citizens and other stakeholders in the decision making process. In general, a lack of trust in politicians and decision-makers was a pretty shared feature of the citizens involved in the meetings.
As for the specific issues that emerged in different contexts, specific concerns about the contamination of agricultural crops were expressed in the meeting held in the countryside, while a wider debate on knowledge and democracy took place in the two meetings held in town.
Giovanna Declich | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org