Segregating GM crops: why a contentious 'risk' issue in Europe?

Levidow, Les and Boschert, Karin (2011). Segregating GM crops: why a contentious 'risk' issue in Europe? Science as Culture, 20(2) pp. 255–279.



Since the Europe-wide ‘risk’ controversy over GM crops in the late 1990s, an extra issue has emerged: the prospect that GM material would become inadvertently mixed with non-GM products, which consequently may require a ‘GM’ label under EU law. The stakes for segregating non-GM crops were framed in contending ways. Agbiotech proponents sought to license a biotechnologised nature as an eco-efficiency benefit,while framing admixture risks as an agronomic management problem which needs rules for co-existence. By contrast, biotech critics have foreseen a dangerous disorder of ‘GM contamination’, while framing this prospect as an ever-wider ‘risk’ issue, encompassing threats to human health, the environment and even democratic accountability. These contending frames intensified disputes over the appropriate rules for segregating GM crops from other agricultures. At stake were different visions of the socio-natural order, expressed by different accounts of risk, freedom and desirable futures. Conflicts of accountability took the form of disputes over market freedom versus coercion and unfair burdens on farmers; these concepts framed expert evidence and thus made it more contentious for any ‘science-based policy’, featuring disputes about whether specific management proposals were based on ‘politics rather than science’. For these reasons, biophysical admixture per se cannot entirely explain why the segregation problem became such a contentious ‘risk’ issue; a comprehensive explanation lies in contending policy frames.

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