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 innew innovations, which have often contributed to improved living conditions (Archibugiand Iammarino 1999; Archibugi and Pietrobelli 2003; Castells 1999; International MonetaryFund 2000). Yet, the very same progress has produced unprecedented risks, which are oftenuncertain and incalculable in nature (Giddens 1991; Beck 1986, 1999). Such ‘uncertain risks’are usually associated with large-scale, long-term and transboundary hazards with whichsociety 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 posedby genetically modified organisms (GMOs).1 As it is contested whether GMOs constitutea risk to the environment and/or human health, scholars have pointed out that GMOsshould be conceived of in terms of uncertainty (ibid.; Lang and Hallmann 2005; Levidow etal. 2005). Indeed, even though scientific or historical proofs of harmful consequences withregard to GMOs are lacking, “suspicions cannot be fully refuted either” (van Asselt andVos 2008, 281). A decisive question is thus how to take decisions in the face of uncertainty(Beck 1999; Löfstedt, 2009).