Framing of Biotech
Three distinct framings of biotechnology emerged in the U.S., Britain, and Germanyas product, process, and program, respectivelyand each rested on its own scientific, administrative, legal, and political supports.
The product-based approach took hold in the U.S., where it went hand-in-hand with a scientific account of genetic engineering as a highly specific intervention, grounded in molecular biology, promising untold benefits, and entailing negligible adverse consequences for human health and the environment.
Britain and the EU, by contrast, adopted a process-based approach, which brought together more ecologically oriented expert perspectives with a policy posture that admitted more uncertainties and called for a precautionary approach to regulation.
Germany took caution one step further by highlighting political and ethical, as well as scientific, unknownsin particular, the possibility of a programmatic alliance between science and the state that might lead to abuses of power unless the risks of biotechnology were tightly controlled.
The framing of biotechnology as a stream of commercial products was most readily accepted in the U.S., where, in areas other than national security, the market often out-competes the state as a model of legitimate social organization.
A preference for market solutions as an alternative to state control grew during the 1980s, as the deregulatory fervor of the Reagan era began to influence administrative practices. With the downfall of communism and the end of history, the ideology of the market gained additional force.
Pro-market and antiregulatory tendencies manifested themselves across the entire range of governmental action on biotechnology, from the failure to enact comprehensive federal legislation in the 1970s to the relative laxity of regulation in the 1980s, and from the permissive patenting decision in Diamond v. Chakrabarty to the facilitation of university-industry technology transfer through the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act.
At the same time, a chronic aversion toward incurring opportunity costs, expressed through a laissez faire policy toward private initiative and risk-taking, significantly lowered the threshold barriers to biotechnological innovation.