Law, Technology and Public Contestations in Europe
Biotechnology Regulation series
Chapter 4: Precaution, public participation and technocratic responses
The precautionary principle has been asserted as a cornerstone in the risk regulatory framework for GMOs in Europe. As suggested in this chapter, invocations of the principle in many regulatory realms often appear to be geared towards fostering public confidence and trust, either explicitly or covertly, and for regaining legitimacy for a food safety system battered by controversies like BSE. In view of the identification in the previous chapter of trust and engagement as key features of such systems that ascribe safety, we now take a closer examination of EU GMO regulation to understand the implications of a declared emphasis on precaution. Given constructions of classical risk and precaution as emerging from different paradigms, this chapter seeks to understand if and how improvements have been made to take public disaffections about statistical models, used for ascribing probabilities, which underpin a classical mode of risk governance, seriously. This investigation about any substantial improvement based on the precautionary principle includes how the current regime is more responsive to earlier identified norms of trust and engagement in ascriptions of safety, including in attempts at public engagement and participation. Originally intended to provide guidance in environmental cases where societal stakes are high and scientific claims uncertain or complex, the principle had emerged as 'the hippest environmental principle on the global block' by the turn of the twenty-first century. Though conventional histories trace the principle from German administrative law principles in Vorsorgeprinzip, simultaneous and equally lengthy histories of precautionary-type policies in many other jurisdictions are amply documented.
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