Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 501–525 | Cite as

A Precautionary Approach to Genetically Modified Organisms: Challenges and Implications for Policy and Science

  • Anne Ingeborg Myhr


The commercial introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has revealed a broad range of views among scientists and other stakeholders on perspectives of genetic engineering (GE) and if and how GMOs should be regulated. Within this controversy, the precautionary principle has become a contentious issue with high support from skeptical groups but resisted by GMO advocates. How to handle lack of scientific understanding and scientific disagreement are core issues within these debates. This article examines some of the key issues affecting precaution as a legal standard and as an approach to the use of science in decision-making processes. It is pointed out that there is a need for reflection over the level of scientific evidence required for applying the precautionary principle as well as who should have the burden of proof when there are uncertainties. Further, an awareness of the broader scientific uncertainties found in GMO risk assessment implies that a precautionary approach must be elaborated: both for acknowledging uncertainties and for identification of scientific responses. Since precaution is an important issue within the sustainable development framework, it is suggested that sustainability can provide a normative standard that can help to reveal the influence and negotiate the importance of the various forms of uncertainty. Wise management of uncertainties and inclusion of normative aspects in risk assessment and management may help to ensure sustainable and socially robust GMO innovations at present and in the future.


The precautionary principle Precautionary approach GMO regulations Genetically modified organisms Scientific uncertainty Sustainable development 



The author would like to thank a number of anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.GenØk-Center for BiosafetyTromsøNorway

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