Regulatory science and uncertainty in the risk assessment of pesticide residues

Diggle, Rebecca (2010) Regulatory science and uncertainty in the risk assessment of pesticide residues. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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In this thesis I examine how the scientific advisory system in England and Wales has responded to concerns about the risks of pesticide residues in food and demands for wider engagement in the formulation of advice. Specifically, I explore how the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) frames scientific uncertainties in risk assessment, and why some bodies outside and within government are critical of the ACP’s approach that is centred in the conventional single-chemical, high-dose-response paradigm of toxicology. Although some of these challenges date back to the early history of pesticide regulation in England and Wales, the emergence of scientific research employing different methods to assess the effects of chemical mixtures and chronic low-level exposure has stimulated new concerns about the risks posed by pesticide residues for human health.

Using semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis, a key finding is that concerns about low-level exposure to chemical mixtures have been persistently bracketed in official advice as insufficient for changing current advice and regulation. Drawing from literature in science and technology studies, I account for this finding in three ways. First, it is perceived that change is unnecessary since established methods of pesticide risk assessment represent an exemplar for other domains. Secondly, evidence selection by the ACP and related committees is shaped by regulatory guidelines which aim to provide standardisation and quality assurance, but also constrain judgements about which risk assessment studies are considered admissible. Thirdly, fundamentally different notions are at play in terms of what constitutes legitimate expertise and who should embody it, leading to tensions within government as well as between the ACP and NGOs. These limit the impact of post-BSE attempts to make the role of scientific advice in policy-making more participatory and ‘evidence-based’, and the capacity to introduce new paradigms of chemical risk assessment in the pesticide advisory process.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Raman, S.
Millar, K.
Nathanail, C.P.
Keywords: regulatory science, scientific uncertainty, risk assessment, scientific advisory committees, pesticide residues, low-level exposure, chemical mixtures
Subjects: S Agriculture > SB Plant culture
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > Institute for Science and Society
Item ID: 11451
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 05 Oct 2010 10:45
Last Modified: 20 Dec 2017 21:30

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