Keywords: ethics, EU/US trade dispute, genetically modified organisms, policy making, uncertainty, agricultural biotechnology, GM products, European Union, United States, USA, technological transfer rate, precautionary principle, health risk, environmental risk, transgenic research, precaution
Perspectives on precaution: the role of policymakers in dealing with the uncertainties of agricultural biotechnology
From 1999 to 2004, the European Union had in place a moratorium on new genetically modified (GM) products. This moratorium created a tense trade dispute between the United States and the EU. While the moratorium has now been lifted, differences remain between the EU's and US's approach to GM products. The essence of the conflict involves differing approaches to the rate of technological transfer. The US advocates a rapid rate of technological transfer, while the EU advocates a slow and cautious rate. The EU's 'proceed slowly' approach is grounded in the controversial precautionary principle (PP). Crudely, the PP places the burden of proof on the developers of new technologies like GM to show that their products do not pose a threat to human health or the environment. While the PP has grown in influence in Europe over the last three decades policymakers in the US have largely rejected it. The following enquiry will examine the justifications for these conflicting perspectives on precaution toward technological transfer of GM, or transgenic research. The ultimate goal is to shed light on the role of policymakers in dealing with the uncertainties associated with this new and powerful technology.