Stakeholder engagement to inform the risk assessment and governance of gene drive technology to manage spotted-wing drosophila

A. E. Kokotovich, S. K. Barnhill-Dilling, J. E. Elsensohn, R. Li, J. A. Delborne and H. Burrack,  Journal of Environmental Management,  307:114480. 2022.

Emerging biotechnologies, such as gene drive technology, are increasingly being proposed to manage a variety of pests and invasive species. As one method of genetic biocontrol, gene drive technology is currently being developed to manage the invasive agricultural pest spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii, SWD). While there have been calls for stakeholder engagement on gene drive technology, there has been a lack of empirical work, especially concerning stakeholder engagement to inform risk assessment. To help address this gap and inform future risk assessments and governance decisions for SWD gene drive technology, we conducted a survey of 184 SWD stakeholders to explore how they define and prioritize potential benefits and potential adverse effects from proposed SWD gene drive technology. We found that stakeholders considered the most important potential benefits of SWD gene drive technology to be: 1) Decrease in the quantity or toxicity of pesticides used, and 2) Decrease in SWD populations. Stakeholders were most concerned about the potential adverse effects of: 1) Decrease in beneficial insects, 2) Increase in non-SWD secondary pest infestations, and 3) Decrease in grower profits. Notably, we found that even stakeholders who expressed support for the use of SWD gene drive technology expressed concerns about potential adverse effects from the technology, emphasizing the need to move past simplistic, dichotomous views of what it means to support or oppose a technology. These findings suggest that instead of focusing on the binary question of whether stakeholders support or oppose SWD gene drive technology, it is more important to identify and assess the factors that are consequential to stakeholder decision making – including, for example, exploring whether and under what conditions key potential adverse effects and potential benefits would result from the use of SWD gene drive technology.

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