The Food Debate: Ethical versus Substantial Equivalence
Author: Pouteau, S.
Source: Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, Volume 15, Number 3, 2002 , pp. 289-303(15)
Abstract:Substantial equivalence (SE) has been introduced to assess novel foods, including genetically modified (GM) food, by means of comparison with traditional food. Besides a number of objections concerning its scientific validity for risk assessment, the main difficulty with SE is that it implies that food can be qualified on a purely substantial basis. SE embodies the assumption that only reductive scientific arguments are legitimate for decision-making in public policy due to the emphasis on legal issues. However, the surge of the food debate clearly shows that this technocratic model is not accepted anymore. Food is more than physico-chemical substance and encompasses values such as quality and ethics. These values are legitimate in their own right and require that new democratic processes are set up for transverse, transdisciplinary assessment in partnership with society. The notion of equivalence can provide a reference scale in which to examine the various legitimate factors involved: substance (SE), quality (Qualitative Equivalence: QE), and ethics (Ethical Equivalence: EE). QE requires that new qualitative methods of evaluation that are not based on reductive principles are developed. EE can provide a basis for the development of an Ethical Assurance as a counterpart of Quality Assurance in the food sector. In France, a second circle of expertise is being set up to address the social issues in food public policy beside classical risk assessment by the first circle of expertise. Since ethics is likely to become an organizing principle of the second circle, the equivalence ethical framework can prove instrumental in this context.
Document Type: Regular Paper
Affiliations: Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire, INRA, Route de Saint-Cyr, F78026, Versailles cedex, France, Ethos INRA (http://www.inra.fr/Internet/Directions/SED/EES/), E-mail: Sylvie.Pouteau@versailles.inra.fr
Publication date: 2002-01-01