Recasting “Substantial Equivalence”: Transatlantic Governance of GM Food

Levidow, Les; Murphy, Joseph and Carr, Susan (2007). Recasting “Substantial Equivalence”: Transatlantic Governance of GM Food. Science, Technology and Human Values, 32(1) pp. 26–64.



When an intense public controversy erupted around agricultural biotechnology in the late 1990s, critics found more opportunities to challenge risk-assessment criteria and test methods for GM products. In relation to GM food, they criticised the concept of “substantial equivalence”, which EU and US regulators had adopted as the basis for a harmonised “science-based” approach to risk assessment. Scientific uncertainty was framed in different ways by competing policy agendas. “Substantial equivalence” was contested and was eventually recast to accommodate some criticisms. To explain how the concept changed, this paper links two analytical perspectives. “Regulatory science” perspectives illuminate how the “scientification of politics” and “politicisation of science” led to shifts in the boundary between science and policy. “Governance” perspectives illuminate how the “collective problem” for policy was redefined to provide a new common ground for some stakeholders. Overall “substantial equivalence” was recast to govern the social conflict and address legitimacy problems of regulatory procedures.

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