Accountability and Risk Governance: A Scenario-informed Reflection on European Regulation of GMOs

Laura Drott, Frederik Lange, Jonas Vach, Isabel Skierka, Marjolein B.A. van Asselt


Scientific and technological progress in an ever more globalized economy has resulted in
new innovations, which have often contributed to improved living conditions (Archibugi
and Iammarino 1999; Archibugi and Pietrobelli 2003; Castells 1999; International Monetary
Fund 2000). Yet, the very same progress has produced unprecedented risks, which are often
uncertain and incalculable in nature (Giddens 1991; Beck 1986, 1999). Such ‘uncertain risks’
are usually associated with large-scale, long-term and transboundary hazards with which
society has no or only limited experience (van Asselt and Vos 2008; van Asselt et al. 2009).
As a result, their risk potential is highly contested. An exemplary uncertain risk is posed
by genetically modified organisms (GMOs).1 As it is contested whether GMOs constitute
a risk to the environment and/or human health, scholars have pointed out that GMOs
should be conceived of in terms of uncertainty (ibid.; Lang and Hallmann 2005; Levidow et
al. 2005). Indeed, even though scientific or historical proofs of harmful consequences with
regard to GMOs are lacking, “suspicions cannot be fully refuted either” (van Asselt and
Vos 2008, 281). A decisive question is thus how to take decisions in the face of uncertainty
(Beck 1999; Löfstedt, 2009).

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