Exploring the Links Between Science, Risk, Uncertainty, and Ethics in Regulatory Controversies About Genetically Modified Crops

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Abstract

Just as a stream of genetically modifiedcrops looked set to be approved for commercialproduction in the European Union, the approvalprocedure appears to have become bogged down onceagain by disagreements among and within member states.Old controversies have resurfaced in new forms. Theintractability of the issues suggests that theregulatory procedure has had too narrow a focus,leaving outside its boundary many of the morefundamental aspects that cause people in the EuropeanUnion most concern. Regulators have come underconsiderable pressure to ensure their risk assessmentdecisions are soundly science-based. Ethical issueshave been deemed to lie beyond the scope of theregulatory procedure, as a matter to be consideredseparately by professional ethicists. Yet it has beensuggested that all environmental controversies at rootinvolve disputes about fundamental ethical principles.This paper examines how the ethical issues arecurrently suppressed or sidelined. It discusses how anappreciation of systems thinking and a check on thevalues that underpin decisions, using boundary testingquestions, might contribute to a more constructiveregulatory dialogue, with ethical issues considered asintegral in a way that takes better account ofpeople's concerns.