Keywords: precautionary principle, genetically modified, philosophy, regulation, environment, international trade
Assessing the precautionary principle in the regulation of genetically modified organisms
This article seeks to clarify and then assess the regulatory legitimacy of the Precautionary Principle (PP). The investigation proceeds by way of an example, the commercialisation of genetically modified pest protected plants (GMPPPs). First, I sort the various formulations of the PP into two categories - weak and strong. Weak versions afford regulators significant latitude as to what counts as a good reason for approving or denying permission to commercialise environmentally risky technology. Strong versions restrict regulators to consider environmental risk in isolation from possible benefits. Then I argue that in domestic contexts the weak formulations are unobjectionable, justifiable, and otherwise legitimate. However, these formulations are problematic in the context of international trade agreements (e.g. The Cartagena Protocol). Finally, I argue that strong formulations of the PP should be rejected as legitimate regulatory responses to the environmental risks of GMPPPs.