Biotechnology Regulation and GMOs

Biotechnology Regulation and GMOs

Law, Technology and Public Contestations in Europe

Biotechnology Regulation series

Naveen Thayyil

This book examines the EU regulatory framework in the Genetic Modification of agriculture and food to see how adequately EU law treats serious contestations about the development and use of GMOs. Since linkages between law, technology and public contestations could have a crucial dimension in the shaping of democratic societies, the space EU law provides for publics outside of the scientific experts to shape the regulation of GMOs becomes significant. By examining the employment of the precautionary principle and (the advices from) public bioethics committees in GMO regulation, this book examines the policy claim of public participation as a mechanism to represent and mediate public contestations about the use and regulation of GMOs.

Chapter 4: Precaution, public participation and technocratic responses

Naveen Thayyil

Subjects: environment, biotechnology, environmental law, law - academic, biotechnology and pharmaceutical law, environmental law, regulation and governance


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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