Japanese TA-Like Activities in the Sectors of Medical Care, Food and Energy

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Matsuo, Makiko
Yarime, Masaru
Yoshizawa, Go
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Note: This is part of the panel presentation "Knowledge Use and Exchange for Policy and Society in Japan: Concepts and Practices." Japanese TA-like activities in the sectors of medical care, food and energy Makiko Matsuo and Go Yoshizawa Given the conceptual and historical survey of TA, this presentation raises the following research questions: what kind of TA-like activities have been implemented in Japan, particularly focusing on medicine, food and energy sectors; what are the needs in these individual sectors for which institutionalization of TA would be able to meet; in which conditions fragmented or networked activities can be regarded as TA. Document analysis and interviews with relevant actors involved in the past and current TA-like activities. The approach is more like action research, by which we investigators change the context to realize the institutionalization of TA by mobilizing and networking these actors and ourselves through mutual learning. Preliminary Results Technology assessment (TA) refers to institutions and practices which support problem-definition (agenda setting) or decision-making for the development of technology and society by anticipating, at an early stage of the technology development, societal impacts of emerging technologies that are difficult to be governed by conventional research, innovation and legal systems. From this perspective, TA-like activities in the following sectors seem fragmented and less comprehensive. In the case of medical care, TA-like activities have been mostly economic assessment for the medical service payment, which is entirely focused on cost-effectiveness just for medical resource allocation, not for ethical and social implications. Advisory councils for ELSI on advanced technologies have no comprehensive discussions crossing over ministries. Inadequacy of agenda-setting also brings discussions to a deadlock - an expert panel on bioethics in the Cabinet Office has been holding years of debate on embryos. The legislation by parliamentary members is so dependent on legislative bureaus and swayed by social conditions. This entails a lack of consistency in debate as exemplified by virtually leaving discussions on transplanting organs from people 15 or younger. As to food, there are increasing applications of science and technology in this sector, such as pesticides, food additives, veterinary drugs, food irradiation, GM foods, health and dietary foods, nano foods, and cloned meat. The need for comprehensive assessment becomes more urgent, not only for social and ethical debate on GM foods and cost-benefit analysis, but also for examining how health foods affect Japanese individual dietary habits and life styles, food culture, food industry etc. Perspectives on sustainable fishery, relationship between energy and agriculture have also been dismissed. Risk assessment currently undertaken by the Food Safety Commission (FSC) is generally effectively conducted for foods subject to pre-market authorization, despite insufficient assessment of other aspects of applied technologies. The energy policy arena abounds in TA-like activities such as a number of plans, strategies, visions and roadmaps to comply with Kyoto protocol. These quantitative technical scenarios are consistent each other in number but they have hardly conducted social impact assessment. For example in the development renewable energy, there is potentially severe conflict over the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) legislation and a future distributed power supply system. There is no apparent clash, no TA-like activity, and no anticipatory governance. Other examples include an insufficient assessment on social, economic and environmental impacts of biomass fuels, the instalment of HEMS (home energy management system) and its consequence, and 24/7 convenience stores - how it affects the reduction of CO2 emissions, local retailers, regional employment, late-night criminal activities, urban life style etc. A more specific issue discussed is risks and regulations on multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT). There are controversies and confusions around scientific judgements on a couple of articles that imply this nanomaterial may causes asbestos-like mesothelioma. A precautionary but rather pointless and no evidence-based guideline announced by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) in February 2008 has plunged the nanotechnology industry into a further confusion and nanophobia-phobia (Rip 2006). Our analysis suggests the lack of a precautionary appraisal (Stirling 2007) might be the major cause.
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