Ethics of Dissent: A Plea for Restraint in the Scientific Debate About the Safety of GM Crops
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Results of studies that cast doubt on the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops have been published since the first GM crop approval for commercial release. These ‘alarming studies’ challenge the dominant view about the adequacy of current risk assessment practice for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Subsequent debates follow a similar and recurring pattern, in which those involved cannot agree on the significance of the results and the attached consequences. The standard response from the government—a reassessment by scientific advisory bodies—seems insufficient to bring the debate to a satisfactory closure. The recurrence of the same debate every time an alarming study is published shows that science alone cannot solve the problem. We believe that further analysis is needed to investigate if and how we can prevent this repetitive cycle that creates frustration amongst all stakeholders. In this paper, we analyse the dynamics behind discussions which occur following alarming studies. We will use a selection of representative alarming GMO case studies to underpin our claim that it is likely that there will be a permanent difference in view of opinion that cannot be solved with more data or new facts. The current strategy of more research is a pitfall that is unlikely to solve this issue. Instead, the focus of the GM crop discussion should shift towards managing permanent different viewpoints and providing a platform for a broader conversation on agriculture and food production.
KeywordsGMO Biosafety Alarming study Controversial technology Argument analysis
This article is adapted from a report of the Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM). The opinions in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of COGEM. We would like to acknowledge all the experts who were involved in the realization of this report. Furthermore, we thank the participants of the workshop on food bioethics and food safety governance at China Agricultural University for their fruitful comments and questions.
*This paper is one in a set of two articles that resulted from the abovementioned COGEM report. Therefore, the introductory section partially overlaps.
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