Risk and the politics of genetic modification

Ruffley, Martin
From its inception, Genetic Modification has generated intense debate. Supporters insist that the benefits significantly outweigh any alleged costs: increased productivity, particularly in areas where crops are difficult to grow; the technology reduces the need for pesticides and, it is safe. Critics remain unconvinced. They maintain that GM crops remain insufficiently tested, reduce biodiversity, impacting significantly upon plant forms, insects and birds and have potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences. Addressing these political disputes, those such as Vogel has argued that unlike the USA, Europe has become a risk-averse political order because of a series of regulatory failures, most notably BSE. In short, it has led to a ‘transatlantic shift in regulatory stringency’ as Europe endorses the principle of precaution. This thesis challenges this view, arguing that if we are to understand the politics of GM, we need to understand the ‘forces’ that have influenced the way risk, science and politics interact. It maintains that the New Right’s critique of government intervention based as it is upon a conservative view of individual responsibility and a desire to release markets, has altered the role of science in decision-making. The New Right has argued that risk is a part of everyday life and should be embraced, not feared. The role of science should be to define those instances where individuals are exposed to risk, or define clearly where no risk can be established. And if no risk can be proven, intervention cannot be warranted, for it reduces innovation, impacts upon jobs and undermines economic growth.
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland