Mandatory risk assessment is intended to reassure concerned citizens and introduce reason into the heated European controversies on genetically modified crops and food. The authors, examining a case of risk assessment of genetically modified oilseed rape, claim that the new European legislation on risk assessment does nothing of the sort and is not likely to present an escape from the international deadlock on the use of genetic modification in agriculture and food production. The new legislation is likely to stimulate the kind of emotive reactions it was intended to prevent. In risk assessment exercises, scientific uncertainty is turned into risk, expressed in facts and figures. Paradoxically, this conveys an impression of certainty, while value-disagreement and conflicts of interest remain hidden below the surface of factuality. Public dialogue and negotiation along these lines are rendered impossible. The only option left to critics is to resort to claims of fear and to call for new risk assessments to be performed, on and on again. Science is allowing itself to be abused by accepting the burden of proof in matters more suited to reflection and negotiation. The specific challenge to science would be to take care of itself – rethinking the role and the limitations of science in a social context, and, thereby gaining the strength to fulfill this role and to enter into dialogue with the rest of society. Scientific communities appear to be obvious candidates for prompting reflection and dialogue on this issue.
Conflicts of interestEuropean UnionGenetically modified oilseed rapePublic dialogueRisk assessmentScientific uncertaintyValue-disagreement