Law and Decision Making for a New Technology
Biotechnology Regulation series
Chapter 2: GMOs in the EU: The Scope of the Debate
INTRODUCTION The law applying to GMOs is deeply embedded in its social context. The breadth as well as the depth of concerns about agricultural biotechnology, and the resulting ambiguity about what is at stake, create interesting challenges for law and for those charged with reaching decisions in particular cases. This chapter explores in some detail the scope of the debate on GMOs, beginning with an outline of some of the main arguments in favour of the technology as well as the main concerns, before turning to a discussion of the hegemony of risk as a basis for decisions. The innovative and extensive process of review and public participation carried out in the UK during the regulatory hiatus created by the EU moratorium provides a case study.1 A number of GM ‘events’ begin to provide a sense of the scope and the depth of concern about GMOs. In 1998 and 1999 a series of high-profile ‘direct actions’ took place against GMOs in the UK, as individuals and groups destroyed trial fields of GM crops, in front of both cameras and the police. Lord Melchett (the then executive director of Greenpeace) used the media attention to raise what he saw as the ‘very serious threat to the environment’ posed by GMOs, as well as Greenpeace’s concern about both the institutions controlling the technology and the institutions controlling the decision making: ‘the chemical industry think they have some sort of private right to plant this stuff and cause this pollution to the environment...
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