Genetically modified crops in the European Union: regulatory conflicts as precautionary opportunities

Levidow, Les; Carr, Susan and Wield, David (2000). Genetically modified crops in the European Union: regulatory conflicts as precautionary opportunities. Journal of Risk Research, 3(3) pp. 189–208.



The first genetically modified crops and foods to be approved for commercial use in the European Union have prompted intense controversy. Food retailers and processors have been forced to take up the concerns voiced by their customers. New networks of groups have formed to oppose the technology. In response to these pressures, regulators who approved the products have had to reconsider questions they had previously dismissed or officially resolved. Governments have devised more precautionary measures of various kinds. For example, they have increased the burden of evidence for demonstrating safety, have broadened the practical definition of the ‘adverse effects’ which must be prevented, and have devised marketstage precautions for such effects. These extra measures manage the risk debate as well as any risks. In such ways, the technocratic model of European harmonization is being challenged and superseded. This may allow differences in national practices to be viewed as valuable expert resources for a different harmonization model, rather than as deviations from a universal rational norm. Regulatory conflicts offer precautionary opportunities, which could lead to more flexible and democratic procedures. Theoretical perspectives – on risk, uncertainty, precaution, European integration, expertise and the internal market – help illuminate these possibilities.

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