Chapter 6: EU risk regulation: the role of science in political and judicial decision-making
The major institutional shortcomings of European Union (EU) (and national) decision-making that were revealed by the BSE (or ‘mad cow’) and other food crises made clear that the EU is faced with a predominant concern as to how to make decisions in situations of risks and uncertainty. These crises forced the EU to drastically reform both its foundations and its institutional arrangements pertaining to food safety and more generally risk regulation. Without doubt, they emphasized and made visible that governance of uncertain risks is difficult, and inherently political. New approaches introduced by the EU in the aftermath of these crises have therefore sought to repair alleged deficiencies in EU risk regulation. The reforms thus introduced a clearer separation between risk assessment and risk management, particularly expressed by the creation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), and a clarification of the distinct roles of scientists and decision-makers, the precautionary principle, and increased transparency and participation in the science-based decision-making on food. How to deal responsibly with situations in which there are suspicions that hazards may exist, although (sufficient) scientific or historical evidence for them is lacking, is in fact the key question that can be derived from Ulrich Beck’s agenda-setting critique and provoking notion of ‘organized irresponsibility’. Over time, his plea has been reinforced by interdisciplinary risk research. Not surprisingly therefore, prominent risk scholars have indicated that dealing with ‘uncertain risks’ is a major challenge in contemporary societies.
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