Risky Business: Canada's Changing Science-Based Policy and Regulation Regime


385 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-8020-8262-9
DDC 338.9'26'0971




Edited by G. Bruce Doern and Ted Reed
Reviewed by Patrick Colgan

Patrick Colgan is the former executive director of the Canadian Museum
of Nature.


Risky Business is a collection of papers on science-based policy. The
contributors are political analysts and their essays are based on
comparative research on regulatory institutions, with risk being
assessed in terms of values, knowledge, and society. A helpful
introduction explains the focus on large issues and search for a
functioning framework.

Section 1 considers macro-issues and policy controversies. De la Mothe
examines governance, market dimensions, and roles and responsibilities
of the various players. Moving from specific instances to a new model
for risk management, Leiss outlines the conflicts between independent
science and policy decisions, and asserts the need for public dialogue.
The catastrophic handling of mad-cow disease in the United Kingdom is a
sorry tale well related, while the account of how eco-labeling
(especially of forest products) operates outside of science and
governmental trade agreements is fascinating. Two chapters provide
contrasts with the United States: (i) the inadequate Canadian handling
of the parasitic disease borne by Guatemalan raspberries in terms of
such crucial aspects as food trends, risk assessment, and
communications; and (ii) the role of socioeconomic factors in the
different outcomes for the use of bovine growth hormone.

Section 2 focuses on various prominent governmental institutions. The
Therapeutic Products Programme has been transformed from science-based
regulation to broader risk-benefit management. The regulatory use of
science involves policy, assessment, and inspection within the diverse
mandate and priorities of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The
review of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency includes interesting
information on how federally registered products may yet be provincially
banned. The roots of the notorious problems of Fisheries and Oceans lie
in organizational structure, inability to respond, and such threats to
science as compromised peer review. Patient science versus science on
demand is well contrasted in Environment Canada as a department with
increased responsibilities and decreased resources caught in a political
kaleidoscope. More general contributions conceptualize new approaches
for science-based regulation and set science management within larger
political issues. The editors base their conclusions on salient points
from the foregoing papers. The material is well-documented, but
unfortunately there is no index.

The strength of this volume lies in the detailed case studies and the
more general conceptual analyses on the management of risk. There is an
abundance of both description and criticism. The historical and
political contexts of many agencies and issues are lucidly presented.
Recurring themes include the budgetary impacts of the 1993–94 Program
Review, pressures from globalization for harmonization of policy, the
need for adequate data, and the challenges posed by such areas as health
and the environment. It is good to see Robert Merton’s sociology of
science invoked but regrettable that there is only a single mention of
the precautionary principle. Risky Business will serve as a valuable
resource for everyone interested in science policy or Canadian politics.


“Risky Business: Canada's Changing Science-Based Policy and Regulation Regime,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30452.