Risk Assessment and Decision-Making for Genetically Modified Foods

Article excerpt

Risk Assessment and Decision-Making for Genetically Modified Foods

by Aynsley Kellow

The introduction of genetically modified foods has been accompanied by a level of concern in Europe which was not seen in the United States. This is seen as reflecting both a different cultural appraisal of risk, sensitised by the 'mad cow' experience in the United Kingdom, and a desire by European farmers to protect the advantages they enjoy under the Common Agricultural Policy. The level of concern over GM foods is much greater than for GM medicines, where the benefits of the technology are more readily defended.

This Backgrounder, while arguing that risk management must build on the best possible science, draws attention to the social, economic and political aspects of the risk management process. It draws attention to the use of exaggerated claims and the misuse of the precautionary principle by the opponents of GM foods, and argues that many of the concerns about the technology reflect such factors as a sense of unease about the power of the corporations which employ it.

It argues that, like any technology, GM food carries with it both advantages and risks, and that the costs of forgoing GM plants includes environmental costs such as the greater use of pesticides. It argues for careful assessment of the risks, which (if it is to address the public concerns) must be conducted in a transparent and credible manner which builds public trust. The acceptability of risks, it concludes, depends on this as much as science, since the prevailing 'culture of fear' thrives on secrecy and attempts to manipulate public opinion. …