Ignorance-based risk assessment? Scientific controversy over GM food safety

Levidow, Les (2002). Ignorance-based risk assessment? Scientific controversy over GM food safety. Science as Culture, 11(1) pp. 61–67.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09505430120115725


The safety of GM foods became more controversial in Britain in 1998-99. A wide-ranging debate linked several issues – scientific unknowns, experimental method, peer review, scientists’ integrity, bias in scientific advice, public accountability and institutional motives. A central focus was the unexpected results of experiments on GM potatoes at the Rowett Research Institute (RRI), leading to a high-profile controversy over the methods and results. Having been criticized for weak methods, Arpad Pusztai redirected the methodological criticisms at other experimental studies on the safety of GM food. Difficult questions remain for scientific methods, safety evidence and questions about institutional responsibility, in particular: How is safety research limited by political or commercial influences? Why has there been so little scientific research which could provide meaningful empirical results about toxicological or immunological effects? Will risk assessment perpetuate and conceal scientific ignorance? All those questions warrant more careful analysis of the developments and documents cited here. Changes in regulatory policy and scientific methods will be needed in order for so-called ‘science-based regulation’ to become worthy of the name. [This brief article introduces the context of the one which follows: Arpad Pusztai (2002) ‘GM food safety: scientific and institutional issues’, Science as Culture 11(1): 69-92.]

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