Law, Technology and Public Contestations in Europe
Biotechnology Regulation series
Chapter 3: Risk, science and society
Protection of human health and the environment against hazards from the introduction of new technologies has long been identified as a central function of the modern welfare state. The resolution of safety concerns had become particularly important for the acceptability and feasibility of the development and application of new technologies by the 1980s. Since awareness of industrial and technological hazards had grown significantly by this time, many treated the concerns about introduction of new technologies like biotechnologies and nano-technologies as restricted only to an issue of safety. Significantly, the last three decades have seen a slow and steady change in regulatory emphasis on safety, from an investigation of hazards to a more complex regulation of risks, where risk is seen as 'replacing need as the core principle of social policy formulation'. The introductory account of EU regulation of GMOs in the previous chapter identified the pursuit of safety as the dominant trope for authorization and release of GMOs. Two motifs were further discernible, viz., the concept of risk and the principle of precaution, as central to the way concerns of safety are represented and mediated in EU regulation. This chapter seeks a conceptual focus on risk as a dominant regulatory tool to pursue the public objective of safety. The endeavour here is to understand how risk is employed in regulatory engagements with public contestations about GMOs, and the technological trajectories GMOs signify. Evidenced in our examination of the EU regulatory framework in the previous chapter, risk is currently the central organizing principle in the commercial release of GMOs.
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