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Ash dieback and plant biosecurity in Britain

This chapter discusses how the risk-based approach to the usually fatal tree disease ash dieback (caused by the fungal pathogen Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) adopted by the British Government in 2012 transformed a highly contentious socio-economic and political problem of monstrous and messy proportions into a neatly defined techno-scientific challenge. Ash dieback pushed plant health biosecurity up on the Government’s agenda for a time and raised public awareness of the devastating impact of plant disease epidemics, but many of the ‘monsters’ perpetuating these epidemics – including global trade – remain lurking in the dark. The chapter looks at the reasons for this considering both the role and purpose of opening-up plant pathology to scientists and concerned citizens nationally and internationally and the Government’s Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce in the context of framing plant disease epidemics as a biosecurity threat. This framing and the risk-based approach underpinning it, the chapter argues, largely explain why the response to ash dieback constitutes a form of post-political, consensual policy-making in which experts play a key role in narrowing down matters of public concern rather than prying them open to public- and political scrutiny and debate.

in Science and the politics of openness