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More Faust than Frankenstein: the European debate about the precautionary principle and risk regulation for genetically modified crops

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This paper analyses the range of risk-related problems that have arisen over the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops and food products in the context of the adoption of the precautionary principle (PP) in Europe. Adoption of the PP was intended to avoid some of the environmental problems that arose from the earlier reactive/preventive regulatory system developed for pesticides and also to encourage public acceptance of the new technology but is failing to achieve either of these aims. It is argued that a distinction needs to be made between interest-based and ethical or valuebased responses to risk issues and different approaches to conflict resolution are needed in each case. The PP can be seen as having allowed ethical and value-based concerns to have a new role in risk debates in contexts where they were previously excluded. Despite journalistic references to 'Frankenstein foods' the major protagonists in the debate about GM crops and foods are more concerned about the Faustian bargain which puts science, technology and the industries that increasingly control them in charge of world food production systems. Rather than abandoning the PP, as has been suggested by some risk analysts, a more balanced approach to incorporating it into risk regulation, coupled to balanced skepticism about the motivations of stakeholders, is outlined as a starting point to break into the current escalating cycle of conflict while also meeting the needs of modern industrial societies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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