Beyond Substantial Equivalence: Ethical Equivalence

  • Sylvie Pouteau


The concept of substantial equivalence,introduced for the risk assessment of geneticallymodified (GM) food, is a reducing concept because itignores the context in which these products have beenproduced and brought to the consumer at the end of thefood chain. Food quality cannot be restricted to meresubstance and food acts on human beings not only atthe level of nutrition but also through theirrelationship to environment and society. To make thiscontext explicit, I will introduce an ``equivalencescale'' for the evaluation of food chains (GM or notGM). By contrast with substantial equivalence, whichinvolves mainly quantitative, analytical methods ofevaluation, ``qualitative equivalence'' refers to ``less''or non-substantial factors that require new methodsof evaluation based on qualitative principles.``Ethical equivalence'' refers to factors that show themoral value contained in food products. To analyze thedifferent levels at which ethics is needed in foodchains, I will use the French principles: ``Liberty,Equality, Fraternity,'' or freedom, equality,solidarity, and add a fourth principle:sustainability. Sustainability, solidarity, andfreedom can be applied to the evaluation ofenvironmental, socio-economic, and socio-culturalethical equivalence, respectively. Equality refers tojustice and should operate so as to guarantee thatsustainability, solidarity, and freedom are satisfied.I suggest that ethics can provide a basis for arenewal of the food chain concept. Besides QualityAssurance, it is now essential to develop an ``EthicalAssurance'' and this equivalence scale could provide abasis to set up ``Ethical Assurance Standards'' (EAS)for food chains.

Food chain genetically modified (GM) food substantial equivalence ``qualitative equivalence'' ``ethical equivalence'' ``equivalence scale'' quality assurance ``ethical assurance'' 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sylvie Pouteau
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire de Biologie CellulaireINRA, Route de Saint-CyrVersailles cedexFrance

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